In 1996, the Wellness Center was built; next came the Student Activities Center in fall 2013. Now James Smart, executive director of Housing and Residential Life, said it’s housing’s turn.
Smart, along with UM administrators from Student Affairs and the Provost’s office, are beginning to address the possibility of updating on-campus housing. Though nothing is set in stone yet, Smart estimates that renovations or construction of any new buildings will take about 10 years.
The last major renovation involving housing was in the 1980s when the dorms were converted to residential colleges. But these renovations mainly addressed the first-floor lobbies and the construction of master’s apartments where faculty members now live.
The dorms and bathrooms, on the other hand, have not been significantly renovated since the five residential colleges – Eaton, Mahoney and Pearson, Hecht and Stanford – were built in the ’50s and ’60s.
“Our buildings were built for people who had typewriters, a desk and books,” Smart said.
The planning process will primarily determine the building’s role in the future –whether they will be demolished or renovated using the same infrastructure.
The possible 10-year plan will be divided into phases. Each phase will address the renovation of an existing college or the construction of a new building, according to Smart.
Though Smart said that this is a “rough draft,” he emphasized that a key feature of new on-campus structures is that they must be flexible and allow for multiple purposes.
The planning process began in December 2012 when Vice President for Student Affairs Patricia Whitely asked Smart to put together a list of ideas related to housing. Student Affairs and the Housing office then emailed surveys to students October 2013, asking them what they thought about housing.
Smart is using this data as the basis for a potential plan.
“We want to make decisions on some solid information,” Smart said.
Aside from surveys, Smart compares UM to similar schools in a process called benchmarking. He referred to benchmarking as “our competition” because prospective students may decide to attend a college based on its housing.
Savanna Swartz, who is from Annapolis, Md., chose to attend the University of Florida instead of the University of Miami because of UM’s housing.
“I thought the dorms were smallest out of any school I looked at … and weren’t worth how expensive Miami was to go there,” she said.
These costs will not get any lower.
Students’ room rents will fund any future renovations, according to Smart.
Housing rates as posted on CaneLink are $7,336 per year for a standard double room; $9,542 for a small single room in Hecht and Stanford; and $10,966 for a single room. About 4,300 undergraduate students live on campus.
The predicted cost for a project that will renovate the existing five residential colleges and the possible addition of a new building is about $200 million throughout the 10-year timeline.
Junior Maxwell Collie, who lives at the University Village (UV) apartments, believes that housing conditions should be better given these prices.
“We’re paying so much for tuition and paying that much for housing too is insane,” said Collie, who is from Miami and chose to live on campus to get the “full college experience.”
Collie also had a strange experience when she matriculated to UM in 2011. She was placed in Eaton instead of Hecht or Stanford because of limited space.
She felt that she missed out on the traditional first-year experience at UM.
“It made lasting friendships difficult to form when most people left within the semester,” Collie said.
Though students complain about the living conditions at the freshman dorms, Hecht and Stanford have the best satisfaction, according to Smart. The relationships formed there are usually not replicated when students move to the other buildings.
Junior Kinjal Thakor, who also lives at the UV, misses the homey feel in Hecht and Stanford.
“The floor is a big family, and it’s easier to make friends,” she said.
She does, however, appreciate the gradual development from the large community in the freshmen dorms to the greater independence in the UV.
According to Smart, this progression will not change in future projects. He would like to plan buildings that match their mission.
For example, renovations to Hecht and Stanford would enhance that community feeling but improve on the existing model with more privacy.
Other possible plans include more common room space in the five colleges and add a variety of room styles – suites, standard doubles, singles, etc. – in each floor.
“Right now we’re vanilla and chocolate,” Smart said. “Most ice cream shops don’t operate on just vanilla and chocolate.”
While there might be a new residential college, Smart does not intend to house the entire undergraduate population on campus. He believes that students should have the option to live off campus if that fits with their academic and professional goals.
Smart anticipates that students will not begin to see changes until 2017 and a completely finished project until 2026.