NKU revamping campus, opening $53 million center

HIGHLAND HEIGHTS, Ky. (AP) - As part of Northern Kentucky University's remake of its campus, a new $53 million building that includes a "digitorium" sheathed in glass juts out of the building like a spaceship, framing a grassy quad on what used to be a parking lot.

The feature is on Griffin Hall, the new home of the College of Informatics, which houses programs such as Health Informatics and Library Informatics that generally aren't found at other colleges in the area, plus a Center for Applied Informatics to give help to local companies. University President Jim Votruba told The Kentucky Enquirer that informatics, essentially creating and manipulating information, is a "very hot" major and the campus revamp is designed to draw more students to the school in the northern Kentucky suburbs of Cincinnati.

The building - and the course of study offered - is the latest move in a revamping of Northern Kentucky University's campus from a 1970s style concrete jungle to a place where more students spend most of their time on campus. The College of Informatics has been in place since 2005, but professors started moving into their Griffin Hall offices last week and students will take their first classes there in August.

"When this building opens up and students see what's going on here, they'll say, `You mean informatics is writing? It's filmmaking and editing? You mean it has to do with business and with health care?"' said Dean Doug Perry, who has resigned as dean and plans to leave Northern Kentucky University later this summer. "The real return is what this will do for putting not only the College of Informatics on the map, but the entire university."

NKU senior Media Informatics major Beth Russell of Highland Heights said she chose the school over other Web design programs because of the focus on creativity and storytelling.

"You're not just sitting in a typical classroom," Russell said of Griffin Hall. "I almost wish I had more than one year left."

Northern Kentucky University, which enrolled 3,294 Ohioans last spring, hopes the informatics program will have a regional impact because it's not replicated in one academic unit in other colleges.

The University of Cincinnati operates a Center for Health Informatics that supports different academic programs and offers an undergraduate degree in Health Informatics inside another college. Brett Harnett, executive director of the University of Cincinnati center, said the content is critical because health care groups all over the country are implementing personal health records systems and those groups will need to not only organize the data but use it predict health care trends.

"In order to digest all of the data there has to be an informatics approach," he said. "We are looking at the data from many different angles."

Northern Kentucky has raised more than $17 million, mostly for equipment, added to $35.5 million in state construction funds. Among the private funds was a $6 million donation from the Griffin family, founders of recycling and rendering company Griffin Industries.

Some planned aspects of the building are on hold, including a virtual-reality chamber that would have cost several million dollars. The school will spend $2 million a year to maintain the building. Inside, there are two production studios, a full data center and a high-tech newsroom.

"We built that with the full understanding that this is going to be an expensive operation," Votruba said.

(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)