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WKU dedicates The Commons to the Helm Library

After serving first as a physical activities building and then for decades as a college library, an iconic structure at Western Kentucky University was dedicated today (August 31) as The Commons at Helm Library. First announced during WKU President Timothy C. Caboni’s inaugural address in April 2018, The Commons allows the university to no longer use its library as a single place to house books and periodicals. and instead provides a space where students, faculty, and staff can congregate. at the top of The Hill to share a meal, continue teaching beyond the classroom walls and develop ideas for collaboration. The Commons is a partnership between WKU Libraries and Aramark, WKU’s foodservice provider.

The building has a storied history on the WKU campus, dating back to 1931 when it served as a health and physical education building. It has hosted concerts, dances, and class registrations in addition to serving as the home of the WKU basketball team for more than three decades. When the basketball program moved to EA Diddle Arena in 1963, the structure was turned into the Helm Library, and it served in that capacity until 2019. Much of the building’s history is preserved in The Commons. For example, the original basketball jumping circle is exposed in the middle of the ground floor, and the building’s original skylights were added back after being covered over for decades.

President Caboni acknowledged the building’s history before cutting the ribbon on The Commons. “The Commons’ innovative design presents us with a modern place that offers the technology our university community needs to succeed while preserving the history of a building that has meant so much to so many of our faculty, staff and our students since 1931,” he said.

The Commons offers flexible classrooms and meeting spaces, study areas, and several dining options, including Panda Express, Moe’s Southwest Grill, Rising Roll, and local favorite, Spencer’s Coffee. Additional catering space is also available for options that will rotate every few weeks. The Commons is WKU’s seventh LEED®-certified structure on campus.

Dean of WKU Libraries, Susann deVries, noted that The Commons will play an important role on the WKU campus. “Serving as an intellectual hub for everyone on campus, this gathering space will nurture both body and brain,” she said. “I am delighted with the students’ response to this environment and look forward to the future.”

Initially, WKU made steady progress toward completing The Commons. After initially sharing his vision for the space in 2018, President Caboni formed a steering committee of faculty, staff, and students to gather stakeholder feedback and oversee the initiative. WKU Planning, Design and Construction partnered with Chicago design firm Gensler and Louisville-based architects Luckett and Farley to develop plans for the space. Helm Library closed at the end of the Spring 2019 semester and demolition work began immediately. The goal was to open The Commons at the start of the fall 2021 semester.

However, progress stalled in the spring of 2020 as a pandemic gripped the planet. Meanwhile, work has slowed significantly as global lockdowns come into effect. When the blockages were lifted and work was able to resume, unprecedented material shortages as well as labor and supply chain issues caused continued interruptions to construction, and the goal of ‘initial opening quickly became out of reach.

President Caboni noted that, while difficult, the slow progress offered additional opportunities for building improvements. “While the delay has caused frustration, it has also given us the opportunity to put even more creativity and ingenuity into The Commons,” he said. “And if I say so myself, that time was well spent and that space was worth the wait.”

In April 2022, The Commons opened its doors to the campus community and received campus-wide acclaim. Student body president and student regent Cole Bornefeld said The Commons has improved its student experience. “This space makes me even prouder to be a Hilltopper and I’m increasingly grateful as a student to be able to attend WKU,” he noted. “As the voice of the student body, I will say a job well done to Western Kentucky University, Aramark, and to all those who played a part in bringing The Commons at Helm Library to life.”

Speaker Caboni shared his experience of being in the Commons on opening day in the spring. “I spoke to students, faculty and staff to gauge their reactions,” he noted. “Students used words like ‘incredible’, ‘unbelievable’, ‘breathtaking’ and perhaps my favorite, ‘magical’ to describe their reaction to seeing and immersing themselves in The Commons for the first time. »

The Commons will play a key role in transforming the north end of the WKU campus. In 2021, the Garrett Conference Center was removed and recently President Caboni announced a Cherry Hall renovation project that will be completed over the next few years. The Commons, the William “Gander” Terry Colonnade at the Ivan Wilson Fine Arts Center, Cherry Hall, Gordon Wilson Hall and Van Meter Hall will surround the green space once occupied by the Garrett Conference Center to create a more traditional academic village atop La Hill.

President Caboni concluded his remarks by reminding those present of the role The Commons will play in strengthening the campus community and advancing the institutional mission. “Let us never forget the importance of coming together and providing relevant spaces that support our responsibility to nurture a passion for teaching and learning.”

Contact: Jace Lux, [email protected]


Western Kentucky University prides itself on positioning its students, faculty, and staff for long-term success. As student-centered, applied research university, WKU helps students expand classroom learning by integrating education with real-world applications in the communities we serve. Our hilltop campus is located in Bowling Green, Kentuckywhich was recently named by Reader’s Digest as one of America’s Most Beautiful Cities, just an hour’s drive from Nashville, Tennessee.

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