Some of the top players at the University of Wyoming are still not in agreement over the university’s proposed student housing plans.
The UW Board of Trustees on Tuesday hosted a Facilities Contracting Committee session where trustees and other stakeholders discussed the university’s current plans for the placement of new dormitories along the west side of 15th Street.
“A multiphase replacement of UW’s outdated residence halls is a top construction priority of the university,” the university said in a July 31 news release.
The Wyoming Legislature authorized UW to issue bonds for construction of new campus housing and dining facilities last year, with a directive that they be constructed west of 15th Street near the Wyoming Union and Half Acre Recreation and Wellness Center. The bonds will be paid back through student fees attached to resident and dining services.
“These are one time funds financed from the public bonds issuance, not ongoing funds that come from the state’s general fund to the university as part of the block grant,” Trustee John McKinley said.
McKinley said the university has between $125 million and $135 million to use for phase one of the housing project. The board of trustees has approved the demolition of Wyoming Hall to create space for the facilities.
During the first hour of the session, architects laid out their plan for the new student housing and dining facilities.
The proposed site area has a few notable differences from the existing dorms. The biggest change would see student housing and dining facilities relocated from their existing location on the corner of 15th and Grand Avenue to the west side of 15th Street. Four new buildings would be built, totaling 2,000 beds plus a dining center.
The first priority would be constructed to new dorms along the west side of 15th Street, with the first occupying the site of Wyoming Hall and the second occupying the site of the parking lot east of Half Acre Gym.
The total proposed site would take up 14 acres compared to the 5 acres occupied by the existing site. This would increase the resident to acreage ratio from 400 residents per acre at the existing site to 143 residents per acre at the proposed site.
The proposed site has 14% less building footprint coverage than the existing site. The outdoor space would be significantly bolstered, with 6.4 acres of outdoor space at the proposed site compared to 0.7 acres of outdoor space at the existing sight. The height of the new buildings would be five stories, considerably less than the eight- and 12-story residence halls currently in use.
The proposed site will move first year students closer to the historical core of UW’s campus.
“Bringing your first year students into the core of campus is certainly a tall order but it is a great thing to do in terms of reinforcing student success and retention,” said John Burse, principal architect at Mackey Mitchell Architects .
After a discussion between the facility committee, UW faculty and Wyoming legislators, it became apparent that a decision wouldn’t be presented to the full board of trustees.
Rep. Bob Nicholas, R-Cheyenne, said his biggest concern was that the blueprint hadn’t significantly changed from the previous design that was reviewed on June 22.
Nicholas and other took issue with the heights of the building, especially when placed on one of the highest elevation locations in Laramie.
“I would respectfully say that if we have to find a way to build better, more adaptable buildings and find more money, from a legislative standpoint that would be my preference. I think we’re obligated to do it,” he said. “What we’re doing is we’re building something that’s very similar in size and viewscape to what we’re tearing down.”
In contrast, Kimberly Chestnut, vice president of student affairs said that she didn’t want “perfection to be the enemy of progress.”
“I’m deeply invested in us making some progress. I’m really hoping that we have some consensus around many of our needs being attended to even if not a hundred percent,” Chestnut said.
Phil Nicholas, a member of the university’s exterior design advisory committee and former Senate President, echoed other committee members’ concerns over the new buildings impeding on the views of Half Acre Recreation and Wellness Center.
Phil Nicholas suggested putting the south dorm in front of the Wyoming Union, where UW has envisioned putting a green space.
“We’re putting what is the south 500 resident hall on a highspot right in front of Half Acre Gym. These buildings will in fact dominate over the architectural buildings that consist of McWhinnie, Half Acre and all of the interior or Prexy’s,” Phil Nicholas said.
Rep. Chris Rothfuss, D-Laramie, echoed concerns surrounding the scale of the project.
“I am one who feels that with the amount that we’re looking at expending for this project that we really need to do a perfect job and not repeat the sins of the past with just trying to get something done,” Rothfuss said. “It seems to me that we’re trying to fit too much into a space that’s smaller than the footprint really requests.”
Afterwards, Chestnut clarified her previous comment about perfection being the enemy of progress.
“I don’t feel like this is second best. I don’t. I feel like this has really been an effort of great investment and that we have arrived at a really thoughtful outcome,” Chestnut said.
Chestnut also responded to Phil Nicholas’s sentiments.
“How many more years might we wait for your vision to be a reality because we were provided the appropriate space and resources to accomplish that? If we say no to this, what are we inviting as the alternative? I think we owe that to our community as well,” Chestnut said.
After more deliberation between the facilities contracting committee, the committee was unable to make a recommendation to the board of trustees. The committee requested that the architectural team provide a follow-up to the questions and concerns raised by committee members, specifically a blueprint that moves the south hall further south. The architectural team confirmed that they could address the concerns put forth by the committee by the end of the week in order for the committee to make a recommendation to the full board during the September meeting or potentially create a special session to discuss it with the full board before September.