UW-Eau Claire, UW-Whitewater Dorms Building On Hold

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UW-Eau Claire, UW-Whitewater Dorms Building On Hold

Premiere Date: 
August 15, 2014

The delays come after $250 million in cuts to the State Building Program.

 

Episode Transcript: 

Frederica Freyberg:

We leave the campaign trail now for budget news related to UW System schools. Due to increasing enrollment and out-of-date housing stock, some UW campuses have new dorm construction projects are approved by the state. However, a $250 million cut to the state building program has those projects on hold. Department of Administration spokesperson Stephanie Marquis said this, “The projects are enumerated and appropriated in the capital budget, and only a act of the full legislature could remove them. We are managing the cash flow based upon the cuts the legislature made to the state building program.” Those cuts are holding up construction of a 350 bed residence hall slated to begin next month at UW-Eau Claire. Eau Claire assistant chancellor, Mike Rindo,  says student housing is already at 108% capacity. Assistant Chancellor Rindo joins us now from Eau Claire. Thanks very much for doing so.

Mike Rindo:

Thanks for having me.

Frederica Freyberg:

What's your reaction to the cuts in the state building program that affect your building program?

Mike Rindo:

Well, it wasn't a surprise. We knew it was coming when the legislature acted. Of course, we have a building project that is enumerated and we'd like to be able to proceed with it to alleviate the chronic housing shortage we have here at UW-Eau Claire.

Frederica Freyberg:

What about that chronic housing shortage? Can incoming freshmen not even get a dorm room?

Mike Rindo:

We are able to accommodate the freshmen class. We have about 3,750 beds on campus. Our student population typically is between about 10,500 and 11,000. So you can see that there’s already a limit. What we do with our housing is, in addition to having every one of our rooms occupied with the traditional two students to a room, with the exception of our one apartment-style residence hall which has four students to an apartment. But what we do is, in addition to that we have students that are living in study lounges. So there's four, five or six students in the study lounges on each floor of the residence hall. In addition, all of our resident assistants have roommates which is not best practice, because oftentimes residence assistants should have private space to be able to meet with the students that they are working with on their floor.

Frederica Freyberg:

What have you been told is the time line for releasing the funding so that you can get going?

Mike Rindo:

We really don't know. We did complete the pre-design in March of 2013 and, as you said, we're slated to begin construction next month. And we are still awaiting approval to be able to proceed with the next phase of design for the project.

Frederica Freyberg:

What does that do for students or families who might be looking at Eau Claire or even looking to continue there? I mean, does it make them say, I don't know, I'm not sure I want to go to that campus. They've got kind of a housing crunch.

Mike Rindo:

Well, the good news and the bad news is that we've gotten very good at accommodating the housing crunch. It's been a situation that we've really had to deal with for decades. So in addition to having the students living in study lounges, we've also traditionally had to have students living in nearby hotels. Last year we had 166 in hotels. This year we anticipate we'll have about 40 to 50. So we will have fewer students in hotels than we have in the past. When we do that we provide resident assistance, we provide housing programing so that those students are part of campus life. That's really the important thing. We want to make sure our students are having a good experience. But it does create some unusual situations having to have all of those students living in study lounges and in hotels.

Frederica Freyberg:

Study lounges and hotels sounds all right, but it sounds like it must be much more expensive for the university.

Mike Rindo:

We put out a bid for services from the area hotels and we get back an acceptable number that works for us. Fortunately, we have a very good relationship because of the long-running need for-- to house students in hotels. We do have good relationships with the hoteliers in the area.

Frederica Freyberg:

Representative Steve Nass says he thinks this is a good opportunity, this time right now where your funding is on hold and another campus's funding for new residence halls is on hold, he thinks it's a good opportunity to talk about private partnerships to build dorms. Do you think this is a good opportunity for that discussion?  

Mike Rindo:

Well, we're actually, at UW-Eau Claire, involved in a major public-private partnership in downtown Eau Claire called the Confluence Project which has two primary components. One is a mixed-use building which would be office and retail space on the first floor and commercial space and then apartments above that would be suitable for student housing. So that project has been in the news quite a bit in this part of the state. The other part of the project is a shared university community art center. And so the idea is the private sector would build the housing and it would be suitable for students. We did a comprehensive housing demand study as part of our 20-year master plan and it showed that there was, in addition to considerable demand for additional housing on campus, there was also demand for the apartment-style housing off campus that is high quality. So we are working on that kind of a project right now with some private partners in Eau Claire. The problem is is that when you start to try to enter into lease agreements, you can run into some issues with statutes and the constitution.

Frederica Freyberg:

Wow. Well, we need to leave it there, but we'll keep following the progress of this building program at Eau Claire. Thank you.

Mike Rindo:

My pleasure. 


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