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Monday, October 20, 2014

Department of Residential Life keeps focus on future

The plan is 80 percent complete.

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David Freyermuth/Graphic Designer

Jan. 29, 2014

Corrected 01/30/2014 at 10:39 a.m. An earlier version of this article misstated parts of the timeline for the project. The project will be completed, not started, by 2022. Although Jones Hall will be torn down by 2017, no firm tear-down date exists for Laws Hall or Lathrop Hall.

Several factors influence the philosophy of the master plan that has been developed and carried out by the Department of Residential Life: input from students, enrollment figures and what is thought to be best for MU. Started in May 2001, the plan is now 80 percent complete.

“By 2022, we will have completed a plan and renovated and refreshed every single residence hall for the next generation,” Director of Residential Life Frankie Minor said.

The plan alone is one of the reasons that US News and World Report named MU one of the top-20 institutions for learning communities and first-year experiences.

“I love the sense of community that I receive while living in the residence halls,” said freshman Brooke Wiggins, who plans to remain on campus next year. “I’m very much a people person and so meeting new people is always fun for me.”

Minor said that contrary to most national trends, ResLife is building brand new community-style halls.

“While the suite style is popular, it doesn’t create the sense of community and camaraderie that we want our students to have,” Minor said.

He also said there is not too much concern about the mix of returning students and new students in the residence halls other than uncertainty regarding how many students are coming as freshmen.

“We limit the number of contracts we make available to returning students so that we have sufficient space for the incoming freshmen,” Minor said. “If our projections are fairly accurate, it’s going to be tight, but there will be enough space.”

Minor said approximately 85 percent of the students in the residence halls are freshmen. But upperclassmen are encouraged to stay if they are enjoying their experience. Students returning can get their contract as early as the predetermined dates set throughout February, with priority based on seniority. Last year, all of the returning students that signed up on the first day got a contract.

The Department of Residential Life keeps a close eye on enrollment figures for the university as a whole. The numbers for next year are not yet available.

“It is too early to project what enrollment will be for the fall semester,” said Chuck May, senior associate director with the Office of Admissions.

However, in a memo from the MU Division of Enrollment management last year, Vice Provost for Enrollment Management Ann Korschgen and Director of Admissions Barbara Rupp said MU was undergoing an in-state student enrollment decline that is “very significant.” But that comes following several years of the highest enrollment numbers in the history of the school. Nearly 30 percent of MU students are from out of state.

These are trends that Minor takes seriously when the department is deciding future plans.

“We don’t want to take on more beds if we are not going to have enough demand,” Minor said. “What if we’re as big as we’re ever going to be?”

Johnston and Wolpers halls are set to reopen for Fall 2014 and Fall 2015 semesters, respectively. Both are closed for the entirety of this semester.

Fall 2015 will also bring Virginia Avenue South Hall, which will hold more than 300 students.

“We’re still working on a better name than Virginia Avenue South, but that’s just the project name,” Minor said.

One of the final tasks before the conclusion of the master plan is to renovate the Dobbs area. Minor said that Jones will by torn down by 2017. If plans to tear down Lathrop and Laws halls are approved, they will also be torn down at a later date and replaced by five new buildings in the coming years.

The Jones plan has already been approved, but the plans for Lathrop and Laws are part of the second phase of the Dobbs project that has not yet been proposed to or approved by the UM System Board of Curators. Residential Life expects the approval to be a matter of time.

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