The University of Wyoming is searching for consultants to evaluate the university’s housing situation and develop a 10-year plan for improvement.
Rebuilding or renovating UW’s residence halls is part of a larger push to compete with similar-sized institutions and recruit more students to the university.
The university looked into this same idea in 2015, commissioning Mahlum Architects to conduct a study of UW’s housing and dining needs. At the time, Mahlum presented a conceptual 10-year, $200 million plan for completely rebuilding all of UW’s residence halls.
But the Mahlum study had to be set aside in the months that followed as the Wyoming Legislature slashed the university’s budget by more than $41 million, said Bill Mai, UW vice president for administration.
“At the time when Mahlum was looking at it, we were looking at wholesale change,” Mai said. “I don’t think that’s the goal now.”
The new plan would also cover a 10-year timeframe but would have to scale back the proposals made in 2015, said Sean Blackburn, vice president for student affairs.
“The budget scale is different as well,” he said. “When we started that program, it was before some of the fiscal realities of the state, so this project will not be quite as financially ambitious.”
However, the new plan will draw heavily on the earlier Mahlum study and its data, Blackburn said.
“It’s going to be additive,” he said. “We want to also be able to do some additional analysis and get some additional feedback on what’s trending, what’s most in demand from students, so … we’re going to use a good chunk of the Mahlum project.”
Blackburn said he expects a firm to be chosen and approved by mid-June. The firm would then have until Sept. 6 to make a preliminary report and until November to make a final report. The university plans to fund the implementation of the 10-year plan by asking for a loan from the state and paying back that loan with revenue generated through room and board.
The final report will include analysis of housing trends and needs at UW, in Laramie and at other universities, as well as a detailed plan for housing and dining development for the next decade. Comparing UW to similar institutions will help the university select the best path forward — although entirely rebuilding the residence halls is probably not an option anymore, Blackburn said.
“A lot of land grant institutions of our size and nature have kind of those high rise traditional residence halls,” he said. “Some have totally renovated them. Some have knocked them down. Some of them have done some internal work to make them more modern, so we’re excited to get feedback on what to do.”
But the firm will likely suggest taking down at least the oldest residence halls, said UW President Laurie Nichols during the May Board of Trustees meeting.
“We’re also going to ask them to make recommendations on essentially probably taking down Hill, Crane and the commons area in between and giving us more specific information about new residence halls that might be built there,” Nichols said. “It’s, in a way, a little bit of a mixed bag, but it’s what this university needs right now.”
At the meeting, trustees voiced their support for a new 10-year plan.
“We’ve got to be competitive,” Trustee Michelle Sullivan said. “We’ve got a sufficient number of residence hall rooms, but we need the kind of residence hall rooms that are going to attract students.”