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Chase Law's Possible Move to Covington from NKU Finds Opposition

The future of Chase Law School has weighed heavily on the minds of some local politicians as movement is being made towards a potential move from the Northern Kentucky University campus in Highland Heights to the Kenton County Administration Building in downtown Covington.

Kenton County Judge/Executive Kris Knochelmann told The River City News that the county expects to hear what the exact cost of the construction would be to renovate the County Building to not only facilitate the Law School, but also have space for some ancillary classes for NKU as well. Knochelmann said that he expects to see those numbers in about 90 days.

“We’re getting exact costs of what it will take to be in this building as well as reconfigure it to make it not only appealing on the inside, but appealing on the outside,” he said.

Knochelmann sees the potential move to the urban core as beneficial to the entire Northern Kentucky region as it would facilitate the needs of future law students by being close to the Federal Courthouse in Covington and the Federal District Courthouse in Cincinnati. He also sees benefit to NKU by relieving some of the pressure to provide more classroom space on campus, should Chase vacate its current building. 

“We know that they struggle with the need of classroom space, so one of the things that this does, is that it boosts Chase Law School by being in an urban setting. Then it allows for the space presently occupied by Chase for undergraduate classrooms at a very economical cost. So when you talk about adding classroom space that would otherwise not be able to be expanded at the university, the school can expand and then get the opportunity to put Chase in an urban setting that is much more appealing to potential law school students and their access to both the Federal Courthouse here in Kentucky, the Federal District Courthouse in Cincinnati.”

On the other side of the Licking River though, a group of Campbell County residents has formedopposing the move. Among those is Campbell County Commissioner Charlie Coleman who thinks that Chase leaving the County and the City of Highland Heights would hurt both places.

“It would have a negative effect on Highland Heights, and any pluses for them, would be a minus for us,” Coleman said of the two counties. “I represent Campbell County, I represent Highland Heights, so I am opposed to it. I don’t want to lose them, not only financially but from a prestige standpoint.”

Knochelmann, though, sees the potential as a bonus for the whole region.

“Our intention for the county is not to make money from it. Kenton County would essentially contribute the building to an entity that regionally we support dramatically.  It’s not a very marketable space for residential. It’s not very marketable for commercial and we don’t want to compete with commercials, so by doing this you end up having a real benefit for an underutilized asset the county presently has,” Knochelmann said. “We want to make sure that the City of Highland Heights isn’t hurt and we also would want to make sure that Campbell County isn’t hurt. I would argue that Chase in and of itself—we’re talking about a piece of the university that oftentimes gets shaded by the other parts of the university—would actually in many cases promote the law school in ways that it can’t do in its own environment.”

Chase Law School has often moved around in its history. It began in Cincinnati before relocating to Covington and eventually made its home on the NKU campus where it exists today. The Kenton County Administration Building still houses much of the county government but has multiple fully vacant floors since the Detention Center moved to a new facility in South Covington.

“For those who might have been upset when Chase Law School moved from Covington to Campbell County and Highland Heights, look at the great benefit that we already gained as a region,” Knochelmann said.  “We don’t get any payroll tax from it, but look at the impact the university has had on the three counties as a whole. We have to keep that bigger picture in mind just in the same way as we made regional decisions that helped the airport, regional issues that are affected by utility and we have to focus on the real regional benefit of the university. It is Northern Kentucky University, not Campbell County University and not Kenton County University. We want to make sure that there is no short term loss. As we put together the numbers, we want to hold arms with Highland Heights and Campbell County because the feedback I’ve gotten is just to be sure that they don’t get hurt and that’s something that I think we could work through.”

Commissioner Coleman said that NKU President Geoffrey Mearns has had discussions about the possible move and is receptive to the switch. The Campbell County citizens group opposed to the move intends on speaking with Mearns about the issue and meeting again near the end of the month to discuss ways to keep it from happening.

Judge Knochelmann, though, thinks that once all the facts of what it could mean to the region are laid out before the detractors, many will see the reason behind the interest to move the school to the inner-city.

“Utlimately I think facts are what will help turn the tide there,” he said. “The very limited negative feedback we’ve had, is that on the surface, it is a merited question, but once you dig into the details of what really could be done, I think that even Campbell County would have to say that as long as it doesn’t harm them, there is no reason to go against it”

Coleman has publicly raised his concerns about Chase Law School in the last three Campbell County Fiscal Court meetings and the other commissioners and Campbell County Judge/Executive Steve Pendery have also agreed that it is a serious topic that county officials should keep in mind.

The financial benefits that Knochelmann sees for both NKU, Chase Law School, and the two counties involve, outweigh the drawbacks.

“I would say this to anybody who thinks this is not the best thing for Campbell County. Northern Kentucky University is always going to be based in Campbell County; I think that’s very clear. How do we support the University? If someone came to the leaders who might otherwise think that this might not be good, and If we could figure a way that NKU can get a multi-million dollar building for nothing, it’s hard to turn that down," Knochelmann said. "That’s the kind of opportunity that the University and Chase have. And not just an empty building, but a building that is fully functioning and ready to house students, whereas a new building might cost tens of millions of dollars, as well as having a major economic impact to the urban areas of Campbell and the urban areas of Kenton.”

Once Kenton County officials have received the cost numbers of construction for the building, they would then look to discussions in Frankfort as the next step toward identifying Chase’s future, whether it remains on campus, or moves to Covington.

Written by Bryan Burke, associate editor

Photo: Kenton Co. Administration Building in Covington