Res hall project moves forward: State OKs building’s progress after delays

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By Kimberly Wethal

Oct. 14, 2015

 

Not knowing the reason for a halt in the progression of a new residence hall on campus was “challenging” for University Housing Director Frank Bartlett.

Early last week, however, UW-Whitewater received  the go-ahead from the state to move forward with the project after it was postponed in August 2014, and again in 2015 after the proposed 2015-17 state biennial budget had limited resources for new buildings on UW campuses. Moving forward with the project will mean the hiring of architectural and engineering firms by the state to build the blueprints for the hall in the coming months.

“At some point and time, the decisions were made to not allow it to proceed,” Bartlett said. “All I could ever do is speculate as to what the reasons where. Might it be the state’s debt load? That might have been it. Was it people’s perceptions of residence halls on college campuses? That might be something.

“Nobody came out and said why your building project is stopped. We could never get that answer … you hate to be the one holding it up when you’re not holding it up.”

He announced the project’s update to the Residence Hall Association (RHA), the student government representing on-campus residents, last Wednesday night during their weekly meeting.

The new residence hall, planned to be located in between Fischer Hall and Lot 9 along Warhawk Drive, was built into UW-W’s 2014 Master Plan and was approved in the state’s 2013-15 budget. It was proposed in 2012, along with the addition of the other residence halls and renovations eventually included in the Master Plan.

The additional residence halls featured in the Master Plan were the result of a cooperation between University Housing (at the time known as Residence Life), the City of Whitewater and the Whitewater Rental Association.

“We want everyone to feel that ownership so that when we move forward with things, there’s a shared sense of reasonability and excitement and support for it,” Tami McCullough, UW-W Facilities planner said in an earlier interview. (See Royal Purple, May 7, 2014.)

With the current time schedule, the building is estimated to be finished and available for students for the fall semester of 2018. The process of building a residence hall is a three-year process, Bartlett said; it takes 18 months to design the building, and another 18 months to build it.

Had the process not been delayed, the design and engineering work of the residence hall would have begun in February 2013, and would have had an anticipated opening date of August 2016. The hall is still planned to be a mid-size building, being five stories tall and housing 400 students.

UW-W’s 20-year master plan also includes the building of four other new residence halls, three of which will replace the Wells Towers, and the other to accommodate the growth of enrollment.

The lack of on-campus housing wouldn’t be solved by the one new residence hall, Bartlett said. After the completion of the new hall, renovations would resume on current residence halls, taking a building offline.

Two new residence halls would begin to make a difference, Bartlett added.

The planned campus construction will take longer than anticipated, however; the delay of the first residence hall will push the rest of the master plan’s projects back another five years, Bartlett said.

The current Master Plan was set to wrap up in 2031. The Master Plan also includes the west campus renovations to the six current buildings and the construction of new connections built between Fricker, Arey and Benson and between Lee and Bigelow. The hallway connections contain the front desk areas, along with the halls’ mechanical and electrical rooms and common areas for residents.

The renovation of Fricker was completed this last summer, and the renovations to Arey are slated to be complete this October, allowing students living in community lounges across the campus to move into double occupancy rooms.

The new residence hall will begin a three-tier system of housing, becoming a combination of the current low rise buildings and Starin Hall, containing double occupancy rooms, but adding in the element of privatized bathrooms for a currently undetermined number of rooms to share.

That number will remain undetermined until the building’s architecture is drafted and approved – a process Bartlett says has to be re-done by the state.

“There’s a lot of bureaucracy to this process,” Bartlett said. “But we’re excited to have this residence hall move forward – clearly, it’s been stagnant.”

The three-tier aspect of housing options will be related to the cost of living in each style. Bartlett says the standard double occupancy rooms currently in all of the low-rise halls will be the cheapest, with the new hall’s cost being slightly higher, but still less than Starin Hall,

The residence hall was estimated to cost $28 million, from start to finish – but with inflation and the price increases of materials, that number is no longer a reality.

Bartlett isn’t sure of the final cost, but estimates it’ll now be over $30 million.

The final cost of the project will be better estimated once the required Request for Services documentation is completed, yet another step of the residence hall process that has to be re-done because of the hall’s postponed progress.

“Time is money when you’re looking at construction,” Bartlett said. “Unfortunately, our students pay the cost of housing so if they say they’re saving students money,” he said, shrugging his shoulders. “People can make their own assumptions.”

Planning for the future

Bartlett says University Housing likes to think ahead.

That’s why when considering the features of the new residence hall and the future of University Housing as a whole, they meet with the Center for Disabilities, along with representatives from Whitewater Student Government and RHA to figure out the complex needs of students living on campus.

“It’s exciting,” Bartlett said. “It’s complicated, but exciting.”

Fitting into those student needs is the consistency of universal design, which allows for students with disabilities to live wherever they so choose without having the lack of amenities in a building hold them back.

That’s part of why Wells Towers will be coming down, due to its narrow hallways which limit wheelchair mobility.

Currently, 10 of the 13 residence halls on campus have elevators, allowing students in wheelchairs to choose where they live much like their able-bodied peers. The new residence hall will be built with Americans with Disabilities Act accessibility standards in mind, and existing buildings are being renovated to fit student needs as well.

Some of those renovations include putting unisex assisted living bathrooms in the halls and making hallways and door framing wider for students in wheelchairs.

University Housing is not only considering inclusion practices involving students with disabilities, but is adapting to society, making some of the bathrooms in the hall gender-neutral for students who don’t identify within the gender binary.

It’s these kind of inclusive practices that Bartlett says UW-W excels at.

“We’re good at it,” Bartlett said. “That’s big on our values [list], serving of the students with disabilities, or any visitor that might come to campus, regardless of their ability. It’s meeting all of those different needs and doing the best job you can in planning, instead of reacting … we’re planning for future for different lifestyles coming to face us.”