UW has a huge plan for housing
The school proposes to spend $850 million to build dorms and apartments on its main Seattle campus to relieve chronic overcrowding.
Seattle Times higher education reporter
The University of Washington on Monday unveiled an $850 million proposal to build a series of dorms and apartments on its main Seattle campus to house more than 3,000 students, a step it says is needed to relieve chronic overcrowding.
Much of the construction would be on the west side of campus, which UW officials say could also help create an urban-village atmosphere around "The Ave," as University Way Northeast is known. The plan calls for eight new buildings, each up to six stories high, the first to be completed by the fall of 2011. Many would be built on what are now parking lots.
The UW also would renovate six of the seven main residence halls, while demolishing the seventh -- Mercer Hall, a less popular dorm on the west side of campus.
Officials said the cost of the ambitious project could be met by increasing student-housing fees and by borrowing the money over 30 years.
The plan, put together by UW housing staff and approved by UW administrators, will be discussed by UW Regents on Thursday. The regents will vote whether to approve the first round of fee increases for student housing to pay for the plan. Increases would be in effect by next fall.
"It's pretty extensive, and it's pretty exciting," said Eric Godfrey, the UW's vice provost for student life. "We have a real challenge with our housing system. The existing buildings on campus are from the midcentury and are in need of substantial overhaul and renovation. And we are jam packed."
No "gang" bathrooms
These wouldn't be your parents' old dorm rooms. For one thing, the communal or "gang" bathrooms would be gone, replaced by double rooms with their own bathrooms. There also would be seminar rooms, auditoriums, space for academic or career counseling, and rooms wired to accommodate the latest technology.
Officials hope the new dorms would eliminate the need for "triples" -- dorm rooms designed for two people that now are sleeping three because of the space crunch. The UW now houses 5,100 students in a space it says was designed for 4,500.
Freshmen now pay about $4,100 for a nine-month stay in a basic double room.
Rob Lubin, who is helping oversee the project for the UW's Housing and Food Services, said 2 percent annual increases would be added to all resident plans to pay for the project. In addition, one-time fee increases of 20 percent would be added to rooms after renovation. New dorm rooms would be priced at higher rates than older rooms, he added.
Lubin said the UW's stellar credit rating should make financing possible, despite the deterioration in the national housing and credit markets. The deal is based on the UW paying interest rates averaging 5.5 percent, he said.
A big part of the plan involves construction of four-bedroom apartments to accommodate upperclassmen. While two-thirds of freshmen chose to live in the dorms, a majority move out in their sophomore year.
"One of the things we are trying to do is to make it more attractive for students at all four levels of the undergraduate experience," Godfrey said. "Our interest is in developing a deeper sense of community and engagement for all our students."
Godfrey said the idea is not to increase enrollment but to satisfy existing demand. At the same time, he said, students often choose a university based on factors such as the quality of the dorms.
UW President Mark Emmert has often talked about the need to have undergraduates become more immersed in student life, by attending such activities as on-campus concerts and theatrical productions. In 2005, he even raised the idea of a residency requirement. Godfrey said while that's not likely to happen, the new housing plan fits in with Emmert's overall vision.
Under the plan, the UW would build new rooms for about 3,300 students and renovate rooms to hold 4,600 people.
Demolishing Mercer Hall in 2011 would eliminate 447 beds. With dorms less crowded, there would be a net gain of about 2,400 beds.
Although Mercer Hall is the newest of the UW's main residence halls, built in 1970, it may not be missed much.
Lubin said only a fraction of students who stay in Mercer Hall in their freshman year want to return. Although the UW bills it as offering "the best of all worlds" by being close to campus, the University District and public transportation, Lubin said students complain the hall is dingy.
It would be less expensive -- per bed -- to build a new six-story building on the site than to renovate Mercer Hall, he said.
If the plan goes according to schedule, the first two new dorms, to the west of Schmitz Hall and housing about 800 students total, would open in the fall of 2011. A third dorm, just east of Terry and Lander halls and housing almost 500 students, would open in 2012.
Then in 2013, two new apartment buildings would open nearby with about 850 beds total. In the years that followed, two new apartments and another dorm would be added. The six existing halls also would be renovated. The entire project would be completed in 2020.
Nick Perry: 206-515-5639 or email@example.com
Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company
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