University Village awaits demolition, sparks graduate housing discussions

MU hopes to begin demolishing University Village by mid-July or early August.
The Student Parent Center is located on the first floor of University Village building 602. University Village, including the SPC, was closed on June 30.

University Village, an MU-owned apartment complex that was geared toward providing affordable housing near campus for graduate and professional students, closed its doors on June 30.

The shutdown came more than three months after a 2008 report, which highlighted the poor conditions at University Village and recommended its demolition, was released in light of the balcony collapse that killed Columbia fireman Bruce Britt.

While the facility was not demolished earlier because it was needed to provide housing to graduate and professional students, MU will now pursue that option, after all.

According to MU Spokesman Christian Basi, MU hopes to begin demolishing the facility by mid-July or early August, and has requested bids from private contractors to remove asbestos from the buildings and demolish the facility.

On June 19, MU revealed the list of 10 bids received, which range in cost from nearly $379,000 to over $1.5 million.

Basi said MU hopes to choose the contractor that can “fulfill all of the obligations, while giving (MU) the best price,” but no decision has been made at this time.

In order to allow University Village residents ample time to find new places to live, Basi said, the residents were given the option to leave before their lease expired without penalty.

Basi said MU had also worked to help the displaced residents find new places to live.

“We worked with the students to help them find comparable space that they need,” he said. “We worked to see if we had available vacancies within our apartments on campus, such as Manor House, Tara Apartments and University Heights. (Some students) were able to use residence hall rooms.”

The Office of Off-Campus Student Services also has provided consultations to help narrow down housing options for students who were unable to find accommodations on campus, Off-Campus Programs Coordinator Dionne George said.

However, the Graduate and Professional Council drafted a report in April, based on the findings from an open forum on housing for graduate and professional students, and concluded that finding affordable, quiet housing near campus could still be “problematic” for many graduate students.

George said in the report that there are only about 30 apartments in Columbia that are “suitable for graduate students,” between 1 to 5 miles from campus. George also said the average cost for two bedroom apartments, which many graduate students with families seek to rent, is about $600 per month.

GPC President Hallie Thompson said that providing affordable on-campus housing that is geared toward graduate and professional students would not only benefit those students with little money and no reliable way of commuting to campus, but also bear fruit for MU’s recruiting efforts.

“I think (the lack of on-campus housing) could impact certain graduate students … those without a reliable form of transportation,” she said. “A graduate student who is used to living near campus and wants that may decide not to come here because of that. Some graduate students have families, and to have that kind of housing on campus would be a huge recruitment tool.”

Thompson said that because many graduate and professional students have children, replacing the Student Parent Center, which was located in University Village, would be also be important.

“For the GPC, it’s overwhelmingly clear that there are a number of families who have been using the SPC and they have voiced the fact that it is a necessity to their lives during the open forum,” she said.

Chancellor R. Bowen Loftin announced in May that MU will explore the possibility of replacing the SPC by providing land to a private developer to construct and operate a new child care facility.

Thompson said that at this time, the GPC has no stance on how the SPC is replaced, as long as the new facility meets the needs of graduate and professional students.

“The only things we currently have a stance on are the things that matter the most to graduate and professional students, which are having a flexible enough schedule, having a reasonable proximity to campus and keeping the cost within a reasonable range,” she said.

GPC’s General Assembly passed two resolutions in April, urging university administrators to fully explore options for replacing the SPC and University Village.

While some progress has been made in trying to replace the on-campus child care facility, plans for graduate housing have not yet been developed.

Department of Residential Life Director Frankie Minor said there are no plans to replace University Village or build over the lot at this time.

Manor House, another on-campus apartment complex focused on housing graduate students, was initially slated to close in May 2015 for renovations, but the plan has since been postponed while various options for renovating the facility are reviewed, Minor said.

One option is to renovate the complex as an apartment building.

If this plan were taken, new fire code regulations for a building of this type would require that an extra exit stairway be built, which would actually “reduce the overall capacity,” Minor said, resulting in a building with 23 studio, 48 one-bedroom and 8 two-bedroom apartments at an estimated cost of over $8.6 million.

Another option is to renovate the building as a residence hall and potentially gearing it toward upperclassmen, with the hopes of attracting more graduate students to the facility.

Renovating Manor House as a residence hall would cost over $8.8 million to create 210 beds, and could generate up to about $1.4 million in revenue for the self-funded department annually.

If renovated as a residence hall, Manor House would accommodate third and fourth year undergraduate students, and try to attract more graduate students as well, Minor said.

Minor said renovations for Manor House and other possible options for graduate student housing facilities would be discussed throughout the summer and the fall semester.

“There will be some serious conversations about which options will better serve the long-term needs of (MU),” he said. “Whether the university will take on any additional graduate housing or enter a public-private partnership, it’s too early for us to determine which direction we are going in.”

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