Universities pour millions into campus housing

Published: Apr. 14, 2009 at 9:11 PM CDT|Updated: May. 20, 2009 at 4:34 PM CDT
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JACKSON, Miss. (AP) - Mississippi's public universities - acting on the demands of students - are pouring millions into the construction of campus housing. Several schools have housing developments under construction or plan to start on them this year. Others recently have completed projects.

But gone are the days of mundane corridors and community showers. These days, college residence halls have the feel of some modern hotels. "Students are coming to college now with higher expectations about their living space," said Ann Bailey, housing director at Mississippi State University.

In Oxford, the University of Mississippi will open its $46.5 million "residential college" this fall. The college is intended to create a sort of mini-campus for students. Officials say it will encourage students from different backgrounds, pursuing varying majors to have more interaction with a diverse community. Students are encouraged to live there all four years of college.

The four-story structure, located behind the law school, will have living space for faculty, staff and students. Beyond housing, it will have a dining hall, classrooms, a fitness and game room, a music practice room, theater facilities, a teaching kitchen and even a produce market. A second similar development could open in 2010.

"I think it's a wonderful idea," Ole Miss senior Natalie Montalvo said. "These students will really be able to have a better connection with their professors and their majors. I think it will make the overall experience better for them."

All Ole Miss freshmen have to live in campus housing, and several sororities require their sophomore members to live on campus, as well. Montalvo said she hasn't lived on campus since her freshman year, but as an Ole Miss orientation leader and an ambassador who helps recruit students, she knows what students are looking for: spacious rooms, areas to study, a fun atmosphere. "They've put in a lot more stuff since I was a freshman," she said.

The cost to live in the residential college will range from $4,000 to $5,000 a semester, depending on the type of room. That's nearly twice that of other residence halls on campus, but the residential college price includes a meal plan. The residential college marks the first new dorm for Ole Miss since the early 1970s. Other campuses also are seeing the demand for upgrades.

"Right now, we're housing more students than we have in at least five years," University of Southern Mississippi Residence Life director Chris Crenshaw said. Last month, USM broke ground on a $37.7 million campus housing development - the largest in the history of the university. Century Park will consist of four, four-story buildings in a gated community.

"In our case, we had a lot of students participate in the overall design," Crenshaw said. Chief among their concerns: technology. So each Century Park resident will be able to connect to the Internet at speeds of up to one gigabyte. "With video games and streaming video, that's the kind of thing that students need these days," Crenshaw said.

USM also has committed to building the development with the goal of being Silver LEED Certified. To receive Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, officials have had to check off a number of environmentally friendly amenities that aim to reduce energy consumption, use recycled materials and encourage "green" attitudes. "It's a very extensive list," Crenshaw said.

From the heating and cooling systems inside the buildings to the covered bike racks out front, officials tried to meet as many requirements as possible in the construction of the 864-bed, living-learning community. USM also made sure the site clearing was "green," particularly with regard to how materials were disposed of. Rather than going to waste, debris from an old parking lot has been recycled, Crenshaw said.

Though it has opened several new residence halls in recent years, Mississippi State expects to have yet another new 350-bed, four-story residence hall by fall 2010. The 1,200-bed, Zacharias Village complex completed on the north side of campus is made up of Ruby Hall, Griffis Hall, Hurst Hall and the yet-to-be-named Building III. It's also home to MSU's Shackouls Honors College.

The new residence hall will be located across campus on the south side between Rice Hall and McComas Hall. Like most new residence halls, the $29 million project will include double occupancy rooms, each with its own bathroom. It will feature amenities similar to other halls that MSU has opened recently: wireless Internet, study rooms and individual temperature control, and will be co-residential with freshmen and upperclassmen.

Mississippi State "has made an intentional effort to offer a quality community living experience along with the updated living spaces," said Bailey, the housing director. Since 2003, Jackson State University has opened two phases of one residence hall and renovated another. In 2007, it opened Campbell Suites, and plans call for continued increases in the university's housing capacity.

Mississippi Valley State has spent $17 million for new dorms. And Alcorn State is working on a new residence hall using a privatized funding concept for the project. Schools traditionally have built residence halls relying on bond financing from the state, a process that adds to the university's debt.

At Alcorn, the Alcorn State University Foundation will carry the debt, but a private developer will secure the loan and use money from student rent to pay for the project. Alcorn opened an honors residence hall, its newest dorm, around 2000. It houses 150 students, leaving the rest of the campus residents in seven older buildings.

Delta State University also plans to use a similar financing plan to construct campus housing. DSU will begin construction this year on a 350-bed residence hall and 30-unit faculty/staff apartment complex on campus. Delta State's development is expected to cost about $20 million. Officials say they expect the new housing will open in 2010.

(Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)