With the closing of Huntington’s K-mart in February, rumors began spreading that the university was the main candidate to purchase the property. President Sherilyn Emberton, Ed.D., however, said there has been no official interest from the university.
“We would always be interested in any strategic property close to the campus,” she said. “The K-mart property is exciting for several reasons. First of all, it’s just so in your face across the campus … I will tell you officially there has been absolutely no outreach from the university to that property.”
The city of Huntington submitted a proposal for a bridge across route 24 from the university to K-mart in the fall of 2013 to the Indiana Department of Transportation. Mayor Brooks Fetters said the project was estimated to cost $5 million, but the state rejected the proposal.
“Representatives from the university were very supportive,” he said. “At our first presentation with INDOT, Julie Hendryx [interim vice president of business and finance] was one of our presenters … She was there as a representative of the university.”
Hendryx was unavailable for comment at the time of publication.
Fetters said the bridge was considered because of the proximity to the trails being constructed along the old Erie Railroad bed that runs behind the university’s Forest Glen Park. He said the town will resubmit their request for funding in 2018.
Emberton said the K-mart rumors are expected.
“It’s kind of one of those rumors that everybody looks at and says, ‘that would be great for the university,’” she said. “I think there is not a person that is affiliated with Huntington University who has not thought that. I haven’t said it to them back, ‘yes, that would be awesome.’”
She said their focus is maintaining what they have first.
“But if the Lord was to raise up a donor or the opportunity was to provide itself in a way, we most certainly would be interested in it,” she said.
The university recently purchased property across the cross country field on Stults road.
“It was strategic,” she said. “Everytime one of these properties are available, people contact us … K-mart is just so visible.”
If the university did purchase the property, Emberton said they would “explore what programs that type of space would best enhance.”
Some students asked if there was any talk about using the potential property as a new athletics facility. Emberton said she had not even thought that far but said funding for the PLEX renovations have been halted. The capital campaign to fund renovations for the Merillat Complex will end in 2015 after the 2012 changes are paid off.
“Gifts that are coming in are paying off the project,” Vince Haupert, vice president for academic advancement, said. “It was financed on a short term note. There will still be a small balance on the loan after all pledges are paid.”
Emberton said the university has “very little debt.”
“Our debt is less than $9 million and if you look across at many other institutions, that is not much,” she said. “That debt is directly tied to a fee structure that pays for that debt. We have had a couple years of declining enrollment — not huge drops — but declining enrollment.”
She said the school has to take the operational expenses and make them in line with revenue especially when considering new property.
“I’ve made it clear as a campus that we’re not going to do that at the expense of not providing quality services to our students,” she said. “That’s important to me.”
Freshman Lydia Johnson said the university should avoid purchasing the K-mart property.
“I don’t think that’s a good idea,” she said. “We should just focus on what we have here on campus and work with what we have.”