(Laura Simon) [Order this photo]
In fall 2011, the university enrolled 11,510 students and assigned housing contracts to 3,017, filling residence halls to the brim. University officials expect a growth rate in 2012 similar to that of the last three fall semesters, which was 3 percent. By 2014, total student population is expected to hit 12,000.
More students will mean the need for more rooms, and an answer to that need could come in the form of a hotel, said university president Dr. Ken Dobbins.
Dobbins introduced his idea for a hotel last spring. By the end of the spring semester this year, he is hopeful a request for proposals to help attract a partner and lay out the hotel's physical and financial plans will be complete.
A consultant is working on the proposal for the hotel, Dobbins said. He originally named fall 2013 as a possible completion date for the project but is now thinking 2014 looks more feasible.
"The thing is, we want to do it right," he said.
In order to do that, the university needs to make sure as many current and future needs for space as possible are met and that a financial arrangement with an operator and investor is possible, he said. Those things will be included in the proposal.
"We want to make sure when we put it out there that we have all the pieces that we need," he said.
The hotel would be built on two acres on the west side of the Fountain Street extension, with associated parking in a lot constructed on the east side.
Dobbins said the hotel would help the university meet needs of students and faculty by housing between 100 and 150 students and containing four to five classrooms, faculty offices, a ceramics studio, a performance rehearsal space and a restaurant open to the public and students with meal plans.
No physical plans are complete for the hotel, but Dobbins is developing a vision.
"I think it would be three or four stories, so more of a spread than a high-rise," he said. "The architecture also needs to fit with the River Campus, because it needs to look as if this was a planned community."
He gave the example of matching new brick used in River Campus construction to old brick in the seminary building. A possible cost of construction also has yet to be determined, but Dobbins said he believes it could be similar to that of one of the university's recently built residence halls. The style of the hotel would need to be determined to get a real idea, he said. The last completed residence hall, recently named Merick Hall, cost $23.7 million.
The university is looking at the funding for construction and operation as a future partnership. In a best-case scenario, the university would only provide the land on which to build the hotel and guarantee student beds full for most of the year. The land is already owned by the university foundation.
"I think we'll get all kinds of options," Dobbins said. "Right now we're not planning to build it by ourselves. We're looking at someone coming in and building it and doing a long-term lease."
There is, however, always a possibility that the university could do it alone.
"That's an option we'll keep open for now," Dobbins said. "What I do know is that we need another living option for students and we need a food service option for students."
An example of how the hotel could work exists across town, where 45 students are living in rooms this year at Candlewood Suites because a lack of space in campus residence halls. The rooms will be used again in the 2012-2013 academic year, and students living there will be joined by around 50 more in the fall when another floor is designated for student housing.
The two-floor arrangement will last only one year, according to Dr. Dennis Holt, the university's vice president for enrollment management and dean of students.
When the new residence hall being built on campus opens in July 2013, the university will return to using one of the hotel's floors to house students, Holt said.
Back on campus, dirt is starting to move on the site of the new residence hall, said Kathy Mangels, the university's vice president for finance and administration.
The new hall will be built north of the Seabaugh Polytechnic Building.
Mangels said university officials are going through final drawings with an architect and requests for bids will go out in mid-April. Bids should be received sometime in May, followed by awards on contracts and the start of construction early this summer.
The university is using $24.5 million in bonds to build the residence hall, which will house 262 students.
Another solution for overcrowding could come in the form of a Greek village. Mangels said a feasibility study for that concept will start in April.
"That will involve not only working with university officials, but fraternities, sororities, their alumni and their national chapters to talk about what those organizations would like to see for housing on campus, and what is feasible both for the university and those organizations," she said.
Officials hope funding and operation for the village concept could also come in the form of partnerships.
The deadline for students to submit housing contracts for fall is June 1. Admissions deferments for students who live outside a 50-mile radius of the campus and needed housing were used to control the overcrowding last year. The university's director of admissions, Dr. Debbie Below said now is a little early to tell if that measure will need to be taken again for the fall semester. The university will evaluate occupancy status as of June 1 to determine if it can continue to accept contracts, she said.
"As of this point, we think we will have sufficient housing, but it's just hard to tell," she said. "It will be very close."
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