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ND eager to build new residence halls

Maddie Hanna | Friday, September 16, 2005

The recent trends of forced freshman triples and crowded converted study lounges will likely soon become a chapter in Notre Dame’s residence hall history, as a capital campaign will begin in 2006 to raise money for building new dorms, University officials said.

Construction on the four proposed halls, to be located east of Knott and Pasquerilla East after the closing of Juniper Road, will depend on how quickly the University finds a benefactor willing to underwrite the project, Vice President of Student Affairs Father Mark Poorman said.

“It’s difficult to predict when hall construction will start,” Poorman said. “Given the current overcrowding, it is my hope that we will begin construction on at least one new hall within the next three years.”

Assistant Vice President of Student Affairs Ann Firth said she didn’t know exactly what combination of men’s and women’s dorms would be built.

“My hunch would be we’d probably build a men’s hall and a women’s hall first,” Firth said. “But that will depend a lot on what happens with housing trends between now and the time we actually begin construction, where the need is.”

This means that if the University receives enough funding to build all four requested dorms – a condition that may not be fulfilled – the breakdown will not necessarily be two men’s and two women’s halls.

Along with the addition of new residence halls will be the renovation of existing halls,

“to improve the experience of hall life campus-wide and to avoid great disparities between halls,” Poorman said.

While these plans mean campus-wide construction, Firth said the process would be conducted in the least disruptive manner possible.

“It’s a pretty complex operation,” Firth said. “Our first reading is it won’t entail closing out an entire hall and moving a community to another building – we’re hoping we can do most of what needs to be done over the course of summer. There might be some continuation of the renovation during the academic year … but we’re hoping we can do all of this without having to ask anyone to vacate, move somewhere else and move back.”

University architect Doug Marsh has not created design plans for the proposed halls yet, but Firth said officials were discussing “a conceptual understanding of what we might be looking for” for the new Residential Master Plan.

And although they will have new features in mind, the new halls will not differ greatly from current halls.

“One of the things that multiple studies we’ve done in the last couple of years has told us is that in many ways, residential life is working at Notre Dame really well,” Firth said. “So our goal is really to take the best of what we’ve got in terms of our existing halls, build new halls that have some of the new features that students like and want, but we don’t want to create a disparity where one hall has everything under the sun and some of the existing halls would not be able to have those features.”

But the University would like a disparity to exist between rooms in each dorm, Firth said, explaining study findings where students supported the idea of rooms designated for upperclassmen with features like a living room, bathroom or better view.

“We found that those halls that have those kinds of options are more attractive to upperclassmen, since you can see yourself progressing,” Firth said. “That’s a very natural way to encourage people to stay on campus. It’s not anybody’s goal to have 100 percent of seniors living on campus … But we want to make sure that those who are interested in staying on and being a part of the vibrant, campus residential community have some pretty nice options.”

Poorman echoed Firth’s sentiments on the number of seniors living off-campus.

“I am a complete believer in our residential system,” Poorman said. “With that said, I understand that on-campus living is not for everyone.”

Firth said the “ladder” approach as opposed to seniors-only housing would not detract from the intermingling of classes within the halls.

Both Poorman and Firth also mentioned the desire to renovate LaFortune Student Center and the Stepan Center. Those plans are even less definite than the ones for the new halls, although Poorman described the two buildings as “priorities” in the upcoming capital campaign.

With the surge of construction on and around the University – the campus road project, Notre Dame Avenue entrance, Guglielmo Family Athletics Center and Health Services being just a few examples – Firth said the plans were being designed with the intention of protecting the campus feel.

“I think that’s something people who have been involved in campus planning have really taken to heart,” Firth said. “You know, it’s sometimes difficult for any of us to see change because we say, ‘Wow, that’s so different.’ We drive down the new roads and think, ‘What happened here?’ I think that those concerns are very much a part of the planning process.

“I like to think we’re getting the best of what the new facilities have to offer without losing what we already have.”