BOR campus housing talks continue

After student population hikes, the U is debating a new plan that would revamp Superblock.

by Youssef Rddad

After months of discussion, plans to upgrade the Superblock and renovate Pioneer Hall remain unchanged.
The Board of Regents heard a presentation of the University of Minnesota’s 30-year plan for on-campus housing at board meetings earlier this month. The plan includes concentrating student housing along the Mississippi River on the East Bank campus and close to the academic core of campus.
Rates would likely increase with new or renovated housing options on campus, said Vice President for University Services Pamela Wheelock at a board committee meeting. 
Student housing costs were the lowest in the Big Ten this year. 
The plan comes as the student population at the University is projected to swell and current on-campus housing options age. At the same time, a boom in private apartment construction around the edges of campus has forced the University to confront student housing issues, especially for underclassmen and transfer students.
Under the current plan, Pioneer Hall, which was built in the 1930s, would be renovated, along with additional improvements to the Superblock — the campus housing complex comprised of four residence halls.
Regents have debated in past months whether to renovate or raze the 718-resident Pioneer Hall. 
Previously, upgrades to the Superblock have been favored over the future needs of the Academic Health Center.
At the meeting, Wheelock said surrounding academic areas with housing would help improve safety and reduce travel time for students. She also said studies show students who live on or near campus tend to have higher GPAs.  
The University’s plan also called for potential student housing facing the Mississippi River. 
But some regents questioned whether students would prefer living near the river instead of campus. 
“Before we commit to building on the river, we have to see if there are other options nearby,” Regent Thomas Devine said. 
The University’s housing strategy also includes a goal of housing 90 percent of freshman, up to a quarter of sophomores and 10 percent of fall semester transfer students in campus housing.  
“There’s a number of students who would like to live in [student] housing second year, and we only have room for a relatively small percentage of students,” Devine said, adding that transfer students have to find their own housing. “There is increased demand.”
The University has room for 23 percent of undergraduates, which is the lowest in the Big Ten. 
Vice Provost and Dean of Undergraduate Education Bob McMaster said 12-month leases, which are common in off-campus housing, can be problematic for recent graduates and students who want to study abroad because they’re locked in to their leases.
“I think there’s been some surprise with how these relatively high-end apartment complexes went up around campus,” he said.