Renovated riverfront dorm is a great idea

The University has announced its intentions to renovate the current Mineral Resources Research Center and convert the space into apartment-style student housing. Opened in 1911, the building sits on the East Bank campus, overlooking the Mississippi. The decision to use the existing space benefits the University community in a number of ways. Remodeling allows the University to preserve a historic building on campus while at the same time meeting students’ needs.
Minneapolis — and indeed, the entire nation — is losing its historic buildings at an alarming rate. The demand for maximum square footage in high-rent urban space, combined with the low cost of new construction, means companies will often raze an older building and simply rebuild on the same site. While it may be financially sound, the cost of new construction is the character of a city. The campus does not face all the same problems of the city, but its older buildings clearly add to the campus’ image and atmosphere.
The Mineral Resources Research Center is protected by its status on Minnesota’s registry of historic buildings, but renovating the structure instead of simply constructing a new dorm shouldn’t be seen as a bow to government regulation. Preserving a historic building clearly enhances the aesthetics of the University. New construction on the Twin Cities campus favors heavy concrete, red and yellow brick, small windows and boxy construction. It is also usually ugly. Although it is often overlooked, the aesthetics of a campus are important. The appearance of a college campus is often used as a recruiting tool and in financial appeals to alumni. The older buildings on campus reflect the institution’s history and position in the state as its premier academic institution. A campus that maintains its traditional collegiate look is imminently more inviting than another urban brick-and-glass plaza.
Furthermore, the plan to add to the University’s pool of residence halls clearly meets student needs. Although the U2000 plan has many ambiguous aspects, it is clear in its ambition to make the University a more residential campus. In that regard, the renovation project is a step in the right direction. Administrators cite research that indicates students who live on campus are more likely to be actively engaged in campus life, leading ideally to improved grades and graduation rates.
If administrators want more students on campus, more residence halls obviously need to be built. But the requests of students should be addressed as well. The decision, following the success of Roy Wilkins Hall, to build apartment-style housing rather than traditional dormitories seems to be a response to what students are looking for. And it is not just administrators who want more students to live on campus: There is clearly a demand from students for on-campus housing that is not being met currently. Almost 300 students who requested on-campus housing were denied a place last year, and students camping out in the lounges of residence halls in the fall has become an annual event. The proposal for this new residence hall appears to not only provide the raw space needed to accommodate students, but the type of space they want.