(Reggie Beehner)

By Casey Tolliver

An Eastern alum and his wife want to make sure Eastern students have a leg up and the proper resources when it comes to creative expression.Ron Noel, an Eastern alum, and his wife, Sherrie Lou, donated to Eastern a gift of more than $1 million, which the university will put toward the $2.8 million cost of a new workspace geared to help students work on creative projects. The workspace, which will be called the university’s Studio for Academic Creativity, will be located in The Crabbe Library. The studio’s focus will be to assist students in developing and maintaining skills in writing, research and speaking, said Carrie Cooper, dean of Eastern’s libraries. For instance, students will have access to experts in areas such as writing, researching and public speaking.

“You will be able to walk in and get help organizing all of your thoughts so you can have a good speech or paper when you are finished,” Cooper said.

The project, if all goes according to initial plans, will run to completion by the spring of 2009, she said.

The first construction phase could begin as early as this year, officials said.

As far as what the studio will look like, university officials said the space will primarily serve to enhance the current library settings, building on what’s already there, Cooper said.

“We’re taking a core part of the Library that hasn’t been touched or renovated in years,” Cooper said. “The spaces we are changing aren’t currently used by students.”

To gain additional space for the studio, Cooper said some walls will be torn down. The skylights of Crabbe Library, however, will be retained to allow natural lighting to flow into the area, she said.

The historic main entrance to the library, currently used as an emergency exit, will become a second entrance, reopened for general use. Private studios will be available for use by students or groups. In addition, students will also have access to an outdoor reading area and interior study space as well, Cooper said. Ultimately, the studio will dovetail with the writing lab, currently located in Case Annex, which will be moved to the library as well.

With a $2.8 million price tag, the studio project poses a financial challenge. But school officials said the Noel family’s $1 million gift puts the university on good footing to raise the additional money.

“Their generosity will allow Eastern to offer students an inspiring and creative academic environment within the university library that is uniquely conceptualized beyond traditional research services typically offered by academic libraries,” Eastern President Doug Whitlock said in a press release.

The donation, one of the largest financial gifts Eastern has ever received, is not the first given by the Noels to the university, officials said. The Noels, who reside in Union, Ky., have long helped support the university. And Ron Noel, a 1964 Eastern graduate, has served for several years on the board of directors of the university’s philanthropic arm, called the Eastern Kentucky University Foundation. He currently serves as the foundation’s vice chair.