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Students want what they have at home

Major investments needed to upgrade campus dorms

Most residence halls on Mississippi’s college campuses were built an average of 30 years ago. Some renovations would be expected after that many years of housing students. But there are other factors influencing the current modernization of residence halls in the state.

“A challenge that higher education faces is to provide facilities that are at least similar to what the students now have at home,” said Institutions of Higher Learning (IHL) spokesperson Pam Smith. “The expectation is that residence hall life will have the comforts of home, and this requires renovation of the facilities. It is a continual process in which the Legislature has been most helpful. We fully expect to be asking for additional dollars for residence hall facilities that will meet the needs of students.”

Today’s students often come to college with a whole array of electronic equipment- stereos, televisions, personal computers, microwaves and refrigerators-unknown to students of earlier generations. Catering to their needs isn’t just a matter of pampering Generation X. It also pays dividends for the college.

“Students who live on campus have higher GPAs, are more active in the university as a whole and are more likely to come back as alums,” said Lorinda Krhut, director of residence life at the University of Southern Mississippi (USM). “Improving residence halls is a good investment for the universities because of the greater loyalty of students who live in the hall.”

Living on campus is popular, particularly at campuses like USM where finding parking can be more challenging than passing final exams. Krhut said for the past several years there has been a waiting list for on campus housing that has sometimes gone as high as 800 students

“We anticipate that will continue,” she said. “However, we do realize that many of our students who apply may apply at other universities, as well. So we never know until open up how many students will show up. But, on the whole, we are pretty full on our campus.”

A new $13.5-million residence hall that will contain 383 rooms is currently under construction at the site of the old tennis courts near U.S. 49. Finlo Construction is the contractor for the project. Richard McNeel is the architect. The new hall is expected to open in the fall of 2001.

Krhut said the university has to keep a watch on the housing market to see what is drawing students.

“We can’t compete with apartments because we don’t have apartments for single students,” she said. “We do have apartments in the family housing area. We feel we have a good service. We are convenient. Students don’t have to look for parking spaces, they live in a secure environment, and they have the opportunity to experience living with people from all over the world. We have something that can’t be offered living in an apartment, and we feel students learn something from that experience.”

USM has a plan for upgrading student housing that goes through the year 2010 and addresses every residence facility on campus.

Bill McCartney, director of student housing and residence life at the University of Mississippi, said his campus has been going through a planning process evaluating the needs of student housing.

“When at a campus like Ole Miss, which is 155 years old, you have many buildings that were built during the Depression,” McCartney said. “Those buildings need to be revamped and modernized. As we enter the year 2000, students have dramatically different needs than our buildings are able to provide. And that is true not just in Mississippi, but nationwide.”

McCartney said the last time a lot of housing was built on the nation’s campuses was during the 1960s to meet the demands of the Baby Boom generation. That housing is reaching 30 years of age and is in need of renovation and modernization.

“Those are the challenges out there, and Ole Miss is no different than anyone else,” McCartney said. “What we have tried to do is approach the problem very logically. We have hired an architectural firm, Gale and Associates out of Jackson, to assist in a master plan for renovation of all our residential facilities. We are calling it the Phoenix Project.”

Besides looking at issues such as code compliance and structural stability, the study includes a financial analysis of the cost of renovation. They are also looking at “value added” amenities such as computer labs, sound-proof music practice rooms, conference rooms and reading rooms.

Delta State University is building a new men’s residence hall that will house 192 students and has also begun renovating a 30-year-old building, the Court of Governors. Elsie Lynn Ervin, director of housing and residence life, echoed the sentiments of her counterparts at other state universities who said that students requests and needs have changed over the years.

“We have more and more students who are coming wanting private rooms,” she said. “We don’t have that in residence halls built for two people to a room. Everyone is coming to us from homes where they had they’re own bedroom and bathroom. They haven’t had to share. So the challenges today are much greater than solving roommate differences and getting people to get along.”

Ervin said anything older than 1970 needs some renovation, with some buildings in more need than others. Work is being done on a priority basis.

Jackson State University is also looking at renovating all of their existing facilities. Debra Buchanan, acting director of housing, said that in order to have places to house students while renovations can be done, a new transitional residence hall is being built. Jackson State has already received $7.5 million for phase one of that project and has requested an additional $7.5 million for phase two. When all renovations of existing halls are done, the new residence hall will be used to house non-traditional students.

Jackson State has facilities designed to house 3,574 students, but has functional space for only 2,445. About 100 rooms can’t be occupied because of structural problems in the new honors dormitory where shifting soils have caused problems with the roof, courtyard, plumbing and walkways.

Contact MBJ staff writer Becky Gillette at mullein@datasync.com.

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