Washburn University plans $40 million law school

Washburn University in Topeka plans to build a $40 million law school, the largest single-building construction and fundraising project in the university’s history.

The university’s Board of Regents approved a funding proposal for the new law school on Wednesday, but the timetable hasn’t been established.

The university plans to finance the proposed 152,600-square.-foot building with a $20 million fundraising campaign by the Washburn University Foundation, another $10 million from university reserve funds and borrowing $10 million in short-term bonds.

Washburn officials said they expect the fundraising to take two to three years. The university will determine the fundraising success before finalizing plans with the architect, President Jerry Farley said.

Farley said it was important to improve the building for a “signature program” at the university.

“When I hear people around the country talk about Washburn, they almost always mention the excellence of the school of law,” Farley said. “It has truly developed a phenomenal reputation. But right now, we don’t have the building we need for a world-class school of law in the 21st century.”

The current law school building opened in 1969 after most of the Washburn campus was destroyed by a tornado in 1966. It holds 420 students in a 96,000-square-foot building. By comparison, regional law schools in Colorado and Oklahoma average 177,000 square feet, according to SHW Architectural Group, the architect on the project.

SHW estimated upgrading the existing building would cost $45 million.

Law dean Thomas Romig acknowledged that the project comes at a time when law school applications are down at Washburn and nationwide. But he said he expects enrollment to begin growing again when the economy improves.