UMKC Welcomes Public to $32 Million High-Tech Research Center

The Robert W. Plaster Free Enterprise and Research Center during its grand opening ribbon cutting on Oct. 1. Photo by Brandon Parigo.

Features 11 state-of-the-art research labs

The University of Missouri-Kansas City unveiled its new $32 million high-tech research center to hundreds of guests on Oct. 1.

The five-story, 57,800 square-foot Robert W. Plaster Free Enterprise and Research Center features 11 state-of-the-art research labs. It is the largest privately-funded capital project in UMKC history, with more than 25 donors.

“The Plaster Center has all but ensured that UMKC will remain the #1 ranked school for computing and engineering in Kansas City for years to come,” said Kevin Truman, Dean of the UMKC School of Computing and Engineering, which will oversee the multi-purpose facility.

The labs within the Plaster Center contain a 3D printing lab and fabrication studio to build prototypes, high-performance computing and analytics equipment and software, an FAA-approved flight simulator, a two-story drone flight-testing bay and $3 million of augmented and virtual reality equipment.

The labs aren’t just for UMKC faculty and students — the facility is also a community hub where people from across the university, city and region can come together to discuss, design, build and innovate while propelling economic activity in the region through free enterprise.

“This center will be open to all of ours students. In addition to the students at the School of Computing and Engineering, who make their home here, students of entrepreneurship at the Henry W. Bloch School of Management will be able to build custom prototypes in conjunction with our engineering students,” UMKC Chancellor C. Mauli Agrawal said. “The Plaster Center is a resource for our community. From independent makers to entrepreneurs and innovators, our lab spaces are available for them to experiment and explore new technology, new innovations in materials and breakthroughs in application and design.”

Some of the technology within the labs is not available anywhere else in Kansas City, allowing UMKC to remain state of the art in research and education while helping community partners do the same.

“We are excited to play a part in the cutting-edge research and prototyping at UMKC and in Kansas City,” Truman said.

The Plaster Center, on the corner of Rockhill Road and East 51st Street, is named after Robert W. Plaster, founder of Empire Gas Corporation, which was one of the nation’s largest retail LP gas distributors.

“This accomplishment would not be possible without the support of the Robert W. Plaster Foundation,” Truman said.

A Missourian, Plaster started Empire Gas in Lebanon, Missouri and sold the business in 1996. He then went on to found Evergreen Investments, LLC, an investment company that owns several businesses. The Robert W. Plaster Foundation, a major donor to the center, is also located in Lebanon.

“The Plaster Foundation is thrilled to have contributed to the new Robert W. Plaster Free Enterprise and Research Center at UMKC,” said Jason Hannasch, Associated Executive Director of the Plaster Foundation. “The Plaster Center labs house advancements in computing and engineering technology that will help students, faculty and community members completed advanced research in their chosen field.”