University evaluates high-rise renovations

The University has set a plan in motion to renovate all of the high-rise residential colleges on campus. This includes Elizabeth College, which is currently undergoing changes, Hester, Regents, White and Hart.

Elizabeth College is on track to open in the Fall of 2012.

Kim Oatman, director of Facilities Management, said a consultant was hired in 2006 after the renovations of Lee Clark and James Richmond colleges to give the University an outline of what would need to be done in order to renovate the high rises.

The University is now looking into hiring another consultant to help devise a more comprehensive financial plan for the construction, Oatman said.

“In other words, how long should we take to renovate?” he asked. “How can we step out the fee over time so they’re not too big?”

Just as Clark’s and Richmond’s fees increased, the high rise buildings will as well, but Oatman said he does not know how much they will rise.

He said Hester College is next in line to be worked on.

“We will get authorization from the state this July to renovate Hester, but we’re going to back off a little until we get this study don,” he said. “We’re trying to figure out a way to finance it better.”

Oatman said the hiring of a consultant will ensure that it is still important to renovate the colleges.

“These older buildings were built back in the sixties and their systems just weren’t designed for the use today with all of the computers,” he said. “We need to really do an overhaul of all the high rises and I think it’ll make a huge difference.”

Tom Denton, vice president of Finance and Administrative Services, said the consultant will offer ways to help improve housing for the student population.

“As other universities have done, our consultants will review whether the previously mentioned standard process should continue to be used for financing or whether alternatives to the traditional agency bonds financing are possible,” he said.

Possible areas of review are: student impacts – both financial and logistical, construction costs, forms of ownership, debt loan of the institution and timing of construction, Denton said.

David Wilson, director of Housing and Residence Life, said the plan is contingent upon the University’s debt capacity and the proposed state budget cuts.

Wilson said he believes there should be some kind of renovation.

“I think we need to do something with our buildings; we’ve been able to renovate one and build two new ones but we still have a lot of work we need to do,” he said. “I understand the desire of the consultant – to have someone come in and give us an overview of all of our buildings in the area and what the demand is and what is the best way to do it.”

The housing department, in conjunction with Facilities Management, has tried to get enough state funding so student fees do not increase too dramatically.

Wilson said though the University is still in the preliminary processes of considering a consultant, he hopes they will be able to visit the buildings before the end of the semester or during the summer.