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Should the UI convert the Iowa House Hotel into a new residence hall?

BY DI EDITORIAL STAFF | APRIL 27, 2010 7:30 AM

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YES

It doesn’t take much looking around to see the effects of overcrowding in the dorm system. Estimates say that between 100 and 160 students — at the current enrollment rates — are left without regular dorm rooms each year.

While the Iowa House Hotel makes a nice place to stay for travelers, the University of Iowa, which is already strapped for cash and looking to increase enrollment rates, should covert it into a residence hall to house the expected influx of students on the cheap.

The state Board of Regents is set to vote on the Iowa House plan at its monthly meeting Thursday. Funding for the project would come from Residence System Improvement Funds and Dormitory Revenue Bonds.

The estimated cost of building a new dorm is more than $60 million, a figure that could be cut down by simply revamping the hotel to house around 200 extra students for under $10 million. While an additional 200 beds may not fulfill all future demand (the UI is working to increase enrollment by 100 students each year through 2014), it certainly puts a dent in the number of rooms needed — and at a considerably reduced price.

Additionally, students who are able to live on campus in decent dorm rooms — rather than in cramped lounges or expensive off-campus apartments — are likely to have a more fulfilling freshman year, with more access to campus facilities and activities.

It is unfair of UI officials to encourage all freshmen to stay in the dorms their first year — as they seem to actively promote — and then not adequately house them. When the state of Iowa and the UI are in such dire financial straits, it is fiscally irresponsible to pass up a huge money-saving opportunity.

Creating a new dorm from the existing hotel facilities would be the correct move for the university.

— by Tyler Hakes

NO

When I started investing, my adviser told me that I had to take risks and invest early in life. In that same vein, the UI needs to invest early and build a new dorm to attract students — and then expand and remodel it when the time is right.

Instead, university officials want to convert the Iowa House into a residence hall and then think about building a newer facility further down the road. Remodeling the hotel is a shortsighted idea designed to quickly increase capacity, instead of a thoughtful approach (such as building a new dorm) that would continue to attract students for many years.

The UI’s residence-hall system is in the best financial shape of the three regents’ institutions, Regent Robert Downer said, which means its dorms have the best net profit and the smallest debt service of the three regent institutions. So why not just build a new dorm?

“I don’t know why the University of Iowa is reluctant to make additions to its dormitories when the only recent addition in the last 40 years has been the addition to Burge Hall that opened last year,” Downer said in an interview.

If the UI constructed a new dorm, officials could use it as a recruiting tool to attract the 100 extra students they wish to add to each first-year class. If the only bright, shiny living space campus tour guides can show students is the recent renovation to Burge, then they cannot expect students to flock here or continue to stay in the residence halls once they arrive.

Another factor to consider is President Sally Mason’s initiative to make the UI a more environmentally friendly campus. Downer said it is harder to conserve energy and become a “green” university with old, retrofitted buildings, in comparison with constructing new, LEED-certified buildings.

So would you rather invest in an old, inefficient building — the Iowa House — that might temporarily solve the problem? Or should the UI invest in a new, efficient building that could attract new students? I’d put my money on a new dorm.

— by Jonathan Groves


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