UI proposes private-public partnership for apartments

BY ARIANA WITT | APRIL 22, 2011 7:20 AM

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University of Iowa Housing officials are pursuing a public-private partnership to reconstruct two apartment complexes favored by graduate students.

Officials are considering three options, including the partnership, constructing the buildings on their own, or simply not replacing the apartments. But a partnership with private companies would be the most cost-effective option, officials said.

They will present the options to the state Board of Regents on April 28 in Ames.

Interest in the apartments has dwindled over the years, and 76 units were damaged in the 2008 floods. But UI officials said they wanted to keep the two apartment complexes for graduate students.

"I feel that the university should have some kind of commitment to graduate international students and families," said Von Stange, the director of UI Housing. "If we didn't, that would mean those students would have to fend for themselves in the city."

Housing officials are in several transition periods with the university's Hawkeye Court and Hawkeye Drive complexes.

At the regents' March meeting, they voted to approve demolishing the damaged apartments at Hawkeye Court. Regents also approved the demolition and abandonment of 92 Hawkeye Drive apartments.

Stange said if UI officials attempted to rebuild the apartments on their own, the construction would be more costly and time-consuming than inviting in a private company. Under the agreement, the UI would own the land and contract with companies to build and manage the apartments.

Richard Vedder, the director of the Center for College Affordability, said public-private partnerships between campus housing and businesses is becoming more common.

"Private renovations, depending on the state, may offer more freedom than a state renovation alone," he said. "Universities don't have to be so concerned with bidding, for example."

Previously, Stange said the lease for students at the Hawkeye complexes were in question, with officials planning to completely raze the apartments built in the 1960s.

As of now, officials are involved in request for proposal talks with four companies, though Stange said nothing further with the companies has been decided at this point.

"We're really going to try to have a conversation with the regents and let them know where we are in the process and how we can complete the process," Stange said. "Overall, we're looking to invest further and see what the regents have to say about things."

Rep. Mary Mascher, D-Iowa City, said she understands that year-round housing makes it difficult for universities to keep up with maintenance on their own.

"But they do a fairly good job with keeping up to date," she said. "I don't want prices to spike [for students]. I like to keep prices affordable."

Vedder said private companies can often help keep down the costs of renovating older campus buildings, adding several dorms at his university — Ohio University — were turned over to private companies when university officials could not cover the costs.

"My general feeling is that schools are better at teaching and research, but they aren't so good at things in the private sector like affordable housing."

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