KEARNEY, NE — The University of Nebraska-Kearney is moving forward with construction of a new $15.6 million facility.

UNK officials and project leaders broke ground on the Regional Engagement Center on Thursday. Chancellor Doug Kristensen says the building will be the linchpin of the University Village development.

“This is a very unique opportunity," Kristensen said. "Most communities don’t have an urban village in a rural community. Kearney will.”

The Regional Engagement Center will be among the first major elements of that village. It will be 52,000 square feet, house the UNK Alumni Association, the University of Nebraska Foundation and offer what Kristensen bills as the top meeting space in the region.

“It’ll be a high-tech, first-class meeting facility capable of (hosting) the Board of Regents, the City Council," Kristensen said. "It will also be very flexible so there can be individual presentations. It will hold about 100 people.”

The meeting space is expected draw private tenants to the half of the complex not used by UNK. Allo, Chief Industries, and Olsson have already pledged to the space.

“(This is) clearly a benefit for businesses and industries who want to have a presence in rural Nebraska and have a presence in a very high-tech manner, in a very high-end setting,” Kristensen said.

The project is funded by a series of loans through the University of Nebraska system internal bank combined with money from private developers. 

Ultimately, Kristensen says the Regional Engagement Center will help UNK fulfill its mission.

“I think (University Village) helps us at the University to attract good students and great faculty," Kristensen said. "That’s what we live on - great faculty and good students.”

Kristensen expects the facility to open by early 2025.