U administrators propose residential hall upgrades

by Tess Langfus

University administrators proposed upgrading residence hall sprinkler systems and fire alarms at a Board of Regents meeting Thursday.
Vice President of University Services, Eric Kruse, recommended new systems be installed in buildings that have three or more stories or more than 20 residents.
The Twin Cities, Crookston and Morris campuses will have sprinkler systems installed by 2003. Duluth’s upgrades will be completed in 2005.
On the Twin Cities campus, newer residence halls such as Wilkins Hall already have sprinkler systems installed. The new Riverbend Commons, now under construction, will also have the upgraded systems.
The project is estimated to cost $12.8 million for University campuses systemwide, which includes $7.5 million for the Minneapolis and St. Paul campuses.
University students will have a surcharge added to their housing payments beginning next year for a four-year period. The amount varies per campus; Twin Cities student residents face a $40 increase in their bill per semester.
If pending legislation is approved, the University might receive some funding for the project.
“What we’re trying to do is accelerate providing as safe an environment as possible to our residence hall occupants … in a way that is reasonable to everybody both from a standpoint of time and cost,” Kruse said.
The January death of three students from a dormitory fire at Seton Hall in New Jersey made University officials take a look at its own fire safety standards, said Ronald Holden, a University building official.
“The vulnerability of people living in residence halls became once again apparent with the death of these students,” said Holden. The dorm rooms were not equipped with sprinkler systems.
Regent Robert Bergland called the plan “a good policy,” adding the cost of a human life is not worth delaying the project. The recommendation will be included in next year’s capital budget.
“I would believe that parents will feel better about having their students live in our residence facilities knowing that it is as safe as it possibly can be,” Kruse said.

Tess Langfus welcomes comments at [email protected].