Housing and Residence Life releases new housing plan

Emma Collins

WKU’s Housing and Residence Life has released its 10-year housing plan to renovate old dorms and build new dorms.

Kit Tolbert, the director of HRL, said she met with members of the planning committee this spring to draw up a tentative plan. The plan includes renovations of several dorms that would allow for more residents as well as the construction of at least two new dorms. The plan is open for other construction when the first two dorms are finished.

Tolbert said rather than building traditional, community-style dorms, the new dorms will be similar to apartment-style living.

“They’ll be more of a suite, pod-type living arrangement where you’ll have a group of bedrooms that share a basic common area,” Tolbert said.

Tolbert said the idea to move away from traditional dorms came from the students.

“One of the things that students have told us when we surveyed them was that they would like that different style building,” Tolbert said.

Jacob Brumley, a sophomore from Lawrenceburg who currently lives in Minton Hall, said he has only lived in a community-style dorm, and he would recommend it to first-year students.

“It’s a very good way to get into college for your first year because it does build a relationship with the people around you because you’re with them so much,” Brumley said.

Despite his experience in the community-style dorms, Brumley said he would not live in them after his sophomore year.

Mariah Cobb, Bowling Green sophomore, lives in Southwest Hall.

Cobb said she lived in Keen Hall last year but prefers to live in a suite-style dorm.

“It’s more convenient than living in the common-bathroom style,” Cobb said. “You don’t have to wait in line or anything like that, and you know who has been in there so it’s less of the bleaching it down.”

Both Cobb and Brumley said they would be willing to pay more for a suite-style dorm.

The move to more suite-style dorms will mirror the changes other campuses are experiencing. Northern Kentucky University, Eastern Kentucky University, the University of Louisville and the University of Kentucky have gradually reduced the number of community-style dorms on their campuses while building more suite-style and apartment-style dorms.

Suite-style dorms are often more expensive than community-style dorms, and Tolbert said the new dorms would cost more.

Tolbert also said the cost of living in WKU’s current dorms will increase to cover some of the upcoming construction costs.

Despite the increase, WKU will still have a housing price comparable to prices at other universities.

WKU’s current cost of housing per semester is between $2,134 and $2,395 for on-campus housing with one roommate.

WKU’s housing is closer to the lower end of both U of L’s and UK’s housing costs. U of L costs between $1,900 and $5,036, and UK costs between $2,393 and $4,342, according to their websites.

Tolbert said the funding for the 10-year plan will be borrowed from banks. To secure these loans, HRL will use the WKU Student Life Foundation, which owns the residence halls.

According to a previous Herald article from 1999, WKU’s residence halls needed renovations at the time; however, the university was unable to pay for the construction due to its $21 million debt on the dorms.

In an effort to make renovations possible, President Gary Ransdell and the administration created an entity separate from the university that would buy the residence halls from WKU. The separate entity was SLF, which was created as a private, nonprofit, tax-exempt organization. In 2000, SLF purchased 17 of WKU’s 18 dorms. 

In exchange for the dorms, SLF sold $65 million in tax-exempt bonds. The sale of these bonds allowed SLF to absorb WKU’s $21 million debt on the dorms. As part of the contract, SLF and WKU agreed that in 20 years, WKU would have the option to buy back the residence halls or extend the contract. 

Tolbert said HRL is not able to receive state funding, and the university does not give HRL any money. The money students pay to live in dorms allows HRL to pay off loans secured by SLF.

“Everything we do when it comes to construction or renovation we can do because we can borrow money,” Tolbert said. 

Tolbert said the first part of the plan will be to renovate Northeast and Southwest. She said the renovations are expected to be finished in fall 2017. Construction on the new dorms will hopefully begin within the next year after a location is chosen.