Construction for ‘first-year village’ slated to begin shortly, parking transfer initiated

Construction on the first-year village to replace Bemis Lawrence and Barnes-Campbell Halls will begin this winter. Pearce-Ford Tower Lot will be relocated to across the street where the current commuter parking lot is located. 

Emily DeLetter

The Board of Regents reviewed a plan for a new first-year village for students that will eventually take the place of the current Bemis Lawrence and Barnes-Campbell residence halls in an effort to increase retention as part of WKU’s strategic plan.

Assistant Vice President for Student Affairs Mike Reagle presented the housing plan to the Board during its committee meeting Friday.

Reagle said the plan for a first-year village has been set “for a number of years” and is consistent to what WKU has been called to do in the strategic plan to give each WKU freshman the “opportunity to preside in living/learning communities (LLC) in the proposed first-year village.”

Reagle said WKU should follow a “Disney-style philosophy” when it comes to looking at housing on campus. That means offering different costs and amenities at those costs while still providing the students in residence halls a WKU experience.

In a presentation to the Board of Regents, Reagle said WKU provides the second lowest university enrollment cost across the state of Kentucky.

“That can be interpreted as good, or that can be interpreted as a little bit of a challenge for us,” he said. “As you look at those costs, you can interpret that it’s less expensive, but there are folks that can interpret that it’s cheap or less quality. We’ve got to make sure we are providing quality as well as an affordable experience for students.”

Thefirst-year  village  will encompass two new residence halls which will be wrapped around a quad-style green space in the middle. The current parking lot in that space, the Pearce-Ford Tower lot, will be removed and relocated to across the street where the current commuter parking lot is located. The commuter lot will be moved to a new lot at the top of the hill.  

The buildings’ interiors will consist of three pods per floor which will be independent communities that will allow students to be engaged with faculty and staff members and participate in more community learning.

A more traditional style layout of the residence hall with a shared community bathroom will exist in the building as well as a few hotel-style rooms on each floor, similar to newly constructed Hilltopper Hall. A common space lounge area will exist on each floor for students to use.

“This plan allows us to have a 25- to-one ratio with an RA [resident Advisor],” Reagle said. “As we talk about engagement and we talk about trying to get students connected to the university, we’ve got to have smaller numbers.”

The cost to live in the new buildings will be an increased price compared to other residece halls on campus, Reagle said. He compared the price as similar to Hilltopper Hall, which costs $2,807 per year.

Bemis Lawrence Hall is estimated to be demolished during summer 2019. The following fall will complete the construction of the first new building as well as the demolition of Barnes-Campbell Hall.

Concerning the shifting of resident and commuter parking, Vice President for Student Affairs Brian Kuster presented a new plan to the Board of Regents in a specially called meeting. Designed by the WKU Student Life Foundation, the 1400 block of Park and High streets will be used to “offset the parking that would be lost in the PFT parking lot…the commuter student parking would then be on the Park and High Street lot,” according to a statement in a document provided at the meeting.

“One of the things that this parking swap will do is allow commuter students who really want to park closer to the top of the hill be more proximate to their classes and at the same time create an opportunity for a green space, and student parking will essentially move across the street from where it is today,” President Timothy Caboni said. “It is a win-win situation in addition to a property transfer.”

Kuster proposed the Student Life Foundation would pay for all construction of the parking lots as well as improvements needed on Cabell Drive, which could include a sidewalk widening. Construction is predicted to begin in the next few months. 

Parking and Transportation would also provide a shuttle bus to the location.

“It really is just a block from campus, actually less walking distance than the Chestnut Street lot,” Kuster said. “It is actually a little closer for our commuter students.”

The Board unanimously approved the property transfer.

 

Reporter Emily DeLetter can be reached at 270-745-6011 or [email protected] Follow her on Twitter at @emilydeletter.