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UI backs off dorm conversion

BY MORGAN OLSEN | APRIL 29, 2010 7:30 AM

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After months of considering renovating the Iowa House Hotel to become the newest University of Iowa residence hall, UI officials might scrap the idea.

Regent Robert Downer said the renovation, which was to be discussed at today’s regents meeting, is no longer on the agenda.

“I think they’re planning to give the question more time,” he said. “From what I understand, the university is looking at other potential sites.”

Tom Rocklin, the UI interim vice president for Student Services, said the Iowa House isn’t completely out of the question but confirmed officials are studying other locations.

“It’s not uncommon to submit plans to the Board of Regents and reconsider those plans as time goes on,” Rocklin said.

Because of many budget cuts, some UI students said they are curious about how the university can afford a new facility — even if the costs are for remodeling an existing building such as the IMU’s Iowa House, which would have totaled $9.25 million.

“I think because the university is looking at an increase in [enrollment], it’s responsible to increase housing,” said UI senior Lindsey Piper, adding that with budget cuts she doesn’t “think the best priority should be a new dorm.”

Downer noted funds for residence halls are separate from other university finances and cannot be used for general use, such as paying salaries or operating expenses.

Because the UI has used minimal funds for construction in recent years, money to build a new dorm is available, Downer said.

The most recent construction done on a dormitory was the addition to Burge Hall. The $9 million facelift was completed in time for the 2009-2010 school year and added 104 beds for UI students.

And the UI has a greater financial capacity to build a new facility than other regent schools, Downer said, even as University of Northern Iowa officials are asking for a new student dorm on that campus.

Downer said he intends to support UNI’s initiative, which would create housing for close to 204 junior and senior students in its first phase, at today’s regents meeting. The entire four-phase project will eventually create four buildings, which will house close to 800 students.

The reason for the addition: More juniors and seniors want to stay on campus.

“Students who stay on campus earn higher grades and have a higher graduation rate,” said Michael Hager, the UNI assistant vice president for Student Affairs.

The estimated $19.5 million project would be paid for with dormitory revenue bonds and residence system improvement funds, according to the regents’ agenda.

Currently, the UI’s 10 residence halls are home to roughly 5,600 students. But with plans to increase enrollment over the next five years, UI officials said they’re anxious about necessary space for living.

Rocklin said the possibility of a new dorm needs to be studied more before officials make any decisions.

The regents will meet in open session today at 8:30 a.m. in the IMU.

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