University upgrades dorms as part of housing revamp

Ally Mutnick, Assistant Campus Editor

With student residences closed for Winter Break, the University used the vacant buildings as an opportunity to upgrade some key issues in University housing.

Paul Riel, executive director of Residential Services, said the biggest change was the installation of overhead lighting in Jones Residential College and 1835 Hinman.

By summer, he said, the University plans to add lighting to several remaining student residences — Public Affairs Residential College, Communications Residential College, International Studies Residential College and Sargent Hall.

“We are just trying to find some way to do some small things that make a big difference,” Riel said. “We’re going to keep going with it.”

Other changes include an upgrade to the shower floors and handles in Bobb Hall, McCulloch Hall and Foster-Walker Complex, new kitchen counters in International Studies Residential College and Communications Residential College, as well as higher shower heads in Sargent and Elder Halls to accommodate taller residents.

The University also installed soundproof technology in the Jones music practice rooms.

Bienen freshman Benjamin Tisherman said the overhead lighting was something many in Jones have wanted for a while. There was a video circulating on Facebook of the Jones Executive Board “freaking out” when they were told they would receive the lighting over break, he said.

“It’s just nicer when the sun goes down because you’re not feeling like you’re in a cave,” Tisherman said.

All of these smaller changes are part a larger revamp of University housing — led by Student Affairs — set to take place over the next 10 to 15 years.

By early April, Riel expects to have a detailed Housing Master Plan describing the different types of residences the University will build or renovate.

The program management firm Brailsford & Dunlavey, which NU hired last year to work on Norris University Center renovations, launched an Internet housing survey Jan. 7 to gather information for the master plan. 

“We want to gauge interest,” Riel said. “If you lived on campus, what kind of room would you like to live in?”

 As of Jan. 14, 3,667 students had responded to the survey, which focuses on room styles, such as a one- or two-bedroom apartments, and how much students would be willing to pay.

 Alex Van Atta, Associated Student Government student life vice president, said ASG has been pushing for more upperclassmen apartment-style housing like that in Kemper Hall.

He also said ASG would like the Housing Master Plan to help eliminate the difference in amenities in different campus dorms.

“Right now there is a discrepancy between the (North and South) Mid-Quads (Halls) and Slivka (Residential College of Science and Engineering),” he said. “You have people on campus getting very different experiences just based off where they ended up living.”

Weinberg freshman Kevin Harris said he also noticed the inequity of the on-campus housing. He said the new lighting in Hinman was a good step toward reducing it.

“Even though Allison looks like a hotel, Hinman is slowly starting to resemble a place that’s livable,” Harris said.

The program management firm conducted interviews and focus groups during Fall Quarter to gather additional student housing desires.

In preparation for creating the final master plan, the firm will use the survey results to come up with concepts for new dorms and dorm renovations to share with more students and administrators.

Riel said the master plan is a high priority for Residential Services as well as Patricia Telles-Irvin, vice president for Student Affairs, and Julie Payne-Kirchmeier, assistant vice president for student auxiliary services.

 “It was very clear to me that the vice president and the assistant vice president both had high expectations that we would be making improvements in student housing,” Riel said. “There’s an attitude for change — there’s no doubt about it.”