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New dorm construction remains priority

Maureen Mullen | Tuesday, September 26, 2006

The issue of overcrowded residence halls continues to plague Notre Dame – especially with the record size of this year’s freshman class – and the construction of four new dorms remains a top priority of the University’s Residential Master Plan, University officials said.

“Nothing has been approved by our trustees, but we are hoping to make an announcement in the near future,” Vice President of Business Operations James Lyphout said Friday.

The four proposed dorms – which could potentially be built east of Pasquerilla East and Knott Halls as well as on West Quad, Lyphout said – are part of the University’s 10-year Residential Master Plan, crafted in 2003 and authorized by trustees.

But at this point, some key specifics of that plan are uncertain. The actual construction of each dorm is not yet approved, Lyphout said, and Associate Vice President for Student Affairs Ann Firth said funding has not been resolved.

There’s also the question of the precise location of the new halls. While Firth said “a number of campus sites are under consideration,” she also pointed at the area on the eastern edge of campus – an area that has recently opened up, thanks to the closing of Juniper Road before the school year began.

Though the closing of Juniper Road was not directly related to any single new building or residence hall, “it is part of the University’s larger plan to expand the campus in that direction,” Firth said.

The idea of new dorms has become an increasingly large part of campus discussion during the past year. At a Student Senate meeting Feb. 22, 2005, Executive Vice President John Affleck-Graves included the topic of new dorms while outlining the University’s extensive future development plans.

While the campus will expand, Affleck-Graves told senators the University’s population would not increase.

The University’s goal, Firth said Monday, is to preserve the best current and traditional features of residence halls in the new dorms. Of the four proposed dorms, she predicted two would be for men and two for women.

Plans for the new dorms aim to incorporate “those elements that promote a strong and cohesive community life … while also providing the space and some of the amenities current students would like to have,” she said.

As the new halls are constructed, the University plans to uncrowd and renovate the existing halls, decreasing the number of students assigned to a given room and creating more study and social space within the halls.

The University hopes to offer a greater variety of rooms – especially for junior and senior students – so that students can look forward to having progressively better rooms as they advance through their undergraduate careers, Firth said.

“As has been true for the past few years, some first-year students are currently housed in study lounges or in very small rooms, which is obviously not an optimum situation,” she said.

The process behind the Residential Master Plan began in 2003, when Vice President for Student Affairs Father Mark Poorman created a committee to advise the University’s approach to the construction of the new dorms.

This Ad Hoc Committee on the Future of Residential Life, which was comprised of students, faculty members, administrators and residence hall rectors, helped formulate a strategic plan for the formation of the new dorms, Firth said.

Now, funding for the renovation of existing halls is among the University’s chief priorities. The sooner the University can begin to address these “critical residential needs,” Firth said, the better.

“Given the University’s rich tradition of residential life and its importance in the lives of Notre Dame students, we are very hopeful that the University will be able to identify benefactors who will fund the construction of the new halls,” Firth said.

From the time a benefactor indicates his or her interest in underwriting the construction costs, Firth said it will take two to three years to design and build a new hall.