‘Crane on campus’: What the future of Augustana residence halls might look like

This July, a new project costing up to $110 million could break ground, changing the face of Augustana residential living.

This project would allow the university to build a new residence hall and renovate existing ones in the next two years, according to Chief Financial Officer Shannan Nelson, who proposed the project at the Sept. 19 Board of Trustees meeting.

The trustees meet again this weekend, Dec. 4 and 5. If they pass the proposal,  Nelson said “there will be a crane on campus by July 2021.”

The project includes a complete renovation of Solberg, Bergsaker and Tuve halls, and minor renovations to Stavig and Granskou halls. One new residence hall would be built on campus’s southside to add 400 beds to campus.

The only dorm that could remain untouched by the project is East Hall.

“We have a fantastic academic experience,” Colin Irvine, Augustana’s provost and executive vice president, said. “We have great student life. We have wonderful athletic programs but our living experience, physically speaking, undercuts or compromises the efforts on those other fronts.”

 The new dorm would have predominantly suite and semi-suite layouts. The design could consist of two bedrooms on either side with one shared bathroom per side and a common living space and kitchen in the center of the suite.

Nelson said the decision to renovate rather than rebuild Solberg, Bergsaker and Tuve halls was made because the buildings are “structurally sound.” The plan includes adding elevators, air conditioning and bathroom renovations to the three halls.

 The suite style dorms might cost anywhere from $50 to $100 more per month for students.

“I might take another look at the floor plan if there was that good of a value in the suite style living,” freshman Scott Shlanta said.

Other students were also open and excited about the idea.

“I think I definitely would [pay extra],” freshman Megan Richardson said. “I think that adds another element that would be beneficial to a lot of students on campus.”

Eiler Merkle, a senior Viking  Advisor in Tuve, said his biggest hope for the project is a building people are content to live in — with fewer opportunities for complaint.

“We hear folks saying there are so many bugs, no air conditioning,” Merkle said. “Each building has unique issues.”

One of the most important components when renovating a college campus is to listen to student input.

“When was Solberg built, like, in the ‘50s?” Shlanta said. “It’s an old dorm, and I think that comes out sometimes. The ambiance can be a little down in the dumps.”

Richardson said renovations need to be done in the laundry rooms and shared bathrooms, specifically looking into showerhead water pressures and laundry room organization.

When looking at the potential suite floor plans, Shlanta was not convinced.

“It seemed like a weird floor plan to me, so I would choose to go with the standard roommate and a dorm,” Shlanta said.

With new options, though, there may be added thrill for prospective students.

Jenna Bump, interim housing director, said she thinks housing does play a role in prospective students’ choice to come to Augustana, but maybe not as much as the academic rigors and friendly professors.

At Augustana, students are required to live on campus their freshman and sophomore years, the first often referred to as the freshman experience. 

 For Richardson, housing played a role in her decision to attend. With the right renovations, she said she hopes freshmen will be met with a different experience: comfort instead of compromising needs.

“It’ll be a smoother transition for students,” Richardson said.

Augustana competes with other universities for enrollment, and housing could become a bigger factor if they fail to keep up.
“The real risk here is doubling down on the status quo,” Irvine said. “Maintaining the dorms as they are is a risk to our enrollment.”

Nelson proposed that Augustana take part in a public-private partnership, or P3, to fund its residential life goals by 2030.  In simplest terms, he said, a P3 works like a long-term loan.

However, all housing revenues for the next 30 to 40 years will be directly funneled to repay the P3.

The largest risk, Nelson said, is “taking our current revenue streams and obligating them for the next 30 to 40 years.” Any drop in enrollment or shift in students moving off campus could put Augstana at risk.

However, both Nelson and Irvine said they are confident this investment is the right choice for Augustana.

“This model acknowledges our needs and allows us to leapfrog to where we need to be immediately,” Irvine said. 

Andrea Smith, director of facilities services, said in an email that the master planning process took into account both the continued existence of the university and its values.

The stakeholders ranked 10 competing priorities in the 2030 plan, like hall renovations or power plant expansion, through the existence and value “lenses.” 

In the end, this residential upgrade ranked third in terms of continued existence and fifth according to values.

The P3 housing project was created to address those concerns and extend quality housing as an integral part of the Augie advantage.

“We feel very confident in the future that this is part of the overall educational experience that Augustana provides our students,” Nelson said.

The 2030 plan also leans into Augie’s identity as a residential university where students live and learn together, Irvine said. Learning happens in the halls and dorm rooms as much as in the classroom.

“Students want and need different communities including a physical campus community,” Irvine said.

Caleb Timmerman, a senior Viking Advisor in Stavig, said being residential means forming a closer community — especially with the first two required years on campus.

“I do think it is beneficial, though, because it does really cement that community aspect of Augustana,” Timmerman said.

If this proposal passes, the construction and renovation of residence halls could transform students’ time at the university for decades to come.

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