Getting to class will require little more than a good alarm clock and minimal foot power for about 2,300 students attending the U in the fall semester of 2000. In fact, it won't be a place just to spend a few hours a day in class--or in the parking lots--anymore. It will be home.
With ground breaking this spring, Salt Lake City's Olympic bid has presented a timely opportunity to realize the long-held dream of bringing the Student Housing Project to life at the University of Utah.
The $120 million project, supplemented by $28 million from the Salt Lake Organizing Committee, doubles the current housing accommodations created more than 30 years ago when Ballif, Van Cott, and Austin dormitories were built on central campus for about 1,200 students.
The U's new housing, set on grounds that include historic Fort Douglas, will offer a unique combination of student housing, programs, and services. The buildings will also serve as a month-long Olympic Village for about 4,000 athletes who will participate in the Winter Games held in Salt Lake City in February 2002.
Although the new residence halls will house only twice the number of students currently living in the U's three dormitories--15 percent of the entire student body will eventually be living on campus, including those living in University Student Apartments--the plan's significance is enormous, says Tom Nycum, vice president for administrative services.
"It's a project that will serve University of Utah students in ways we haven't been able to in the past," he says. "It will provide a residential experience for those who want it, and it will give the U an opportunity to recruit students who can't find housing in Salt Lake City."
On tap are six student "neighborhoods" featuring suites, apartments, and single rooms in new buildings strategically placed throughout Fort Douglas. About 2,300 students will be grouped in residential areas according to their accommodation preference and year of study. For instance, 440 first-year students will live in single and double semi-suites northeast of Officers' Circle, where quaint duplexes overlook former military parade grounds. On the site where the Ute baseball field is, 360 graduate and married students will reside in five new four-story apartment buildings. On Connor Road, behind Officers' Circle, 594 students will live in apartments and double semi-suites in two- and three-story buildings. And north of the chapel, near Chapel Glen, 130 guest house units will be built for visiting faculty, lecturers, and others.
The entire residential community will be connected by a "village center," a major pedestrian spine along which students can find a place to eat, socialize, or work in the computer lab. Space will also be provided for seminars, classes, or special events.
All of the buildings--architecturally designed to blend with the historic nature of the fort--will be two- to four-stories high, with the tallest buildings located on the easternmost portion of the site, farthest away from the historic area. Each group of buildings will be situated around courtyards or quads to create a neighborhood environment. Foot traffic will be encouraged over vehicle traffic--although plans call for the addition of about 2,000 parking spaces--and planners intend to preserve plenty of open space and trees. Residents will be connected to the main campus via a 40-foot-wide footbridge spanning Wasatch Drive to the Health, Physical Education & Recreation (HPER) mall. Students will also be served by public transportation, and the U's free campus shuttle system.
Additionally, planners expect to renovate more than 40 of the Fort's historic homes and buildings that grace Officers' Circle, DeTrobriand Street, and Connor Road with the help of private donations raised through the U's Development Office with assistance from Kay BA'62 and Allan Lipman BS'56.
The $44 million project, called Fort Douglas Heritage Commons, will house students and visiting faculty, while providing places to hold seminars and lectures, says John Francis, associate vice president for academic affairs.
These homes could also house special interest student groups, much like the 13 honors students who live in the Kennecott House, a former officers' home which was restored in 1996 thanks to a significant donation from the Kennecott Corporation.
"This renovation project allows students to appreciate the state's history, and to keep a part of Utah's heritage alive," Francis says.
Financed through revenue bonds, the debt for the new housing is intended to be repaid by student rent, food service fees, and other program fees. Funds will also come from the Salt Lake Olympic Committee for athletes to temporarily occupy the residential complex.
"The money the Olympics provides allows us to fast-forward the project, as opposed to our original long-range housing plan of building the residence halls over 10 years," Nycum says.
Plans for expanded student housing actually first took hold about a decade ago during the tenure of former University President Chase Peterson.
At that time, campus planners weren't sold on the idea of building new residence halls. Peterson believed that the Fort Douglas officers' homes, once renovated, would make superb living quarters for Utah students. In fact, he thought the homes could provide housing similar to the residential experience he had as an undergraduate at Harvard University in the late 1940s.
Back then, many Harvard students lived in residence halls which served as both living and learning environments, an arrangement which continues today. Classes, intramural activities, residential life, and tutoring sessions were all centered around each living facility, which also housed several faculty members. The arrangement provided a smaller sense of community among the thousands of students who called Harvard home for a time, according to Peterson.
"It just made a large university a smaller place," says Peterson, now a professor of family and preventive medicine at the U. "Living-learning" arrangements make campus housing less hotel-like in order to provide a more engaging social-cultural experience.
Such an environment could suit Utah students well, Peterson maintained.
At the U, "it's a two-, three-, four-hour a day education for those who are commuting," he says. "For a residential student, the housing provides a 24-hour-a-day education."
The Fort Douglas property seemed like the perfect place to start, Peterson says. "The dream was that those historically elegant homes would serve as residential opportunities for students, perhaps with faculty serving as proctors. I think people who spend $25,000 going to Harvard or Stanford University might be delighted to spend a lot less than that to come here and experience the same thing."
Peterson began talking to former U.S. Sen. Jake Garn (R-Utah) about transferring 51 acres from the northern half of the Department of Defense's Fort Douglas property, a task that was eventually accomplished in 1991. That property includes land around Stilwell Field, Officers' Circle, the Connor Road area, the Officers' Club, and the Chapel Glen area. Sixty-eight additional acres were set aside for the Armed Forces Reserves, which occupies the area along the southern part of Wasatch Drive, but the property will revert back to the University whenever the Army deems it surplus property. In addition, the federal government has recently agreed to transfer an additional 11 acres of Fort property to the U, a deal which should become effective sometime this year. That rectangular piece of land is south of the main entrance to Fort Douglas and Soldiers Circle, east of the red brick buildings visible from Wasatch Drive and bordered to the north by Stover Road.
Once the University obtained the 51 Fort Douglas acres in 1991, the question remained how to integrate it.
When Arthur Smith took over as Utah president that year, he created the Fort Douglas Planning Committee to recommend short- and long-term goals for the newly acquired property, and most notably, the officers' homes and buildings. Jerilyn McIntyre, vice president for academic affairs, was tapped to lead the planning group.
McIntyre, like Peterson, agreed that the homes could be a place for students to live, while serving as a gathering location for the entire student body and nearby residents to enjoy.
"Our committee felt that the homes should be primarily residential, but we still thought the community ought to be invited up to those facilities. We didn't want to have the teaching campus way over here and the living campus way over there," she says, gesturing eastward from her Park Building office.
The committee agreed that the Fort Douglas Heritage Commons--the section of the Fort occupied by the historic homes and buildings--could be developed as a "community of learning...with programs and activities nurturing various aspects of academic and non-academic student life," McIntyre wrote in the report. Learning, the group added, could take three forms: professors teaching students, both in formal classes and in other interactions outside class; students teaching each other, through group study and conversations; and students teaching themselves, through reading and solitary study.
"The conception of a 'community of learning' acknowledges that students learn not just in their classrooms, but also in a variety of other non-academic settings of student life," she wrote. In 1995, U housing officials decided to take another look at student residential needs. Despite the school's commuter reputation, administrators had long been noticing that each fall, scads of students sought placement in the U's three residence halls. Hundreds more, many with families, were being wait-listed at the University Student Apartments, which includes the two University Villages on Sunnyside Avenue and the Medical Towers near University Hospital.
To quantify the need, Ira Fink and Associates of Berkeley, Calif., was hired to survey students about housing needs on campus. More than 12,000 surveys were mailed to the student body during the 1995-96 winter quarter, and focus groups, which included on-campus students, non-traditional students, Greek system members, and others, were gathered to discuss housing.
"The conclusion was that we could certainly increase the number of beds and apartments on campus," says Norm Chambers, director of auxiliary services, which includes oversight of University Student Apartments.
"We recognized that we needed to upgrade, enhance, and make more marketable our living arrangements," adds Dan Adams BS'73, assistant to the vice president for student affairs.
Meanwhile, the U's facilities planning department had begun working on the campus Long Range Development Plan (LRDP) to determine future uses of U property. After more than 200 meetings, which included members of the community, the LRDP committee decided that the Fort Douglas area would provide the best location for new housing. And, if done right, the housing could even enhance the historic fort, which, although a National Historic Landmark since 1974, was lying dormant and largely unused due to a lack of funding for renovations.
The housing plan was not taken lightly. Right from the start, staff from Design West Architects of Salt Lake City and HENV Architects of Norfolk, Va.--the architectural team awarded the contract for planning and design--supported the University in making sure that campus officials, community members, military personnel, and historic preservation representatives were involved.
It was important to be sensitive, not only toward the historical nature of the existing buildings, but to the nostalgic ties any retired military members once stationed at the Fort might have, says Bill Miller, dean of the U Graduate School of Architecture.
"A lot of people have associations with the Fort," says Miller, who also sits on the U Housing Steering Committee. "The design team really did an excellent job in holding public meetings and getting a wide variety of input."
Of chief priority was making sure the housing's scale and variety complimented the environment, offered plenty of options to students, and stayed historically correct.
"There's a real concern, especially in the Fort area, that there is a high level of compatibility, both in detail and materials," Miller says. "While we are not, in the new housing, changing any of the old buildings, we are putting new buildings in a protected place," he says. "In the end, we were able to add 2,400 new beds with minimum disruption to the old buildings."
That regard for history makes a world of difference, notes Wilson Martin BS'72, deputy state historic preservation officer for the state Historic Preservation Office. Fort Douglas is uncommon, he says. It's one of only a handful of operational military forts nationwide that is a National Historic Landmark and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Plus it's the only fort Martin knows of whose future--which includes a stint as an Olympic Village--is being coordinated by military and university officials.
"Cultural resources that don't have life don't excite us very much," Martin says. "What excites us is when history becomes part of the community; new and historic buildings that understand each other, a layering, a richness. That's what we get with this kind of proposal; a plan that will bring life to a historic area without eroding it. What we want is for history to live. We want a mixture of old and new."
The residence hall construction is scheduled to be completed in the summer of 2000, and the first wave of students will move in that fall. The Stephen A. Douglas Armed Forces Reserve Center will continue to operate at its current location, on the southern part of Fort Douglas.
Two months before the Olympic Games commence on Feb. 8, 2002, residential students remaining on campus (classes will be suspended for three weeks) will be relocated to alternative housing while Olympic officials secure the area and put up athletes in temporary University quarters. "There's a lot of things we could do," Vice President Nycum says about the students, including perhaps moving some into the former Ballif, Van Cott, or Austin halls. Plans for the old residence halls are still hazy, but the buildings may eventually be used as temporary office quarters during campus building remodeling, or even as overflow classroom space, he says.
After touring Nagano's Olympic Village, Nycum and Turpin found the high-rise structures more sterile than the environment they intend to provide in new dorms at the U.
"I feel good about our plan for the Olympic Village, that we'll have the kind of atmosphere people want--a sense of village," Turpin told a reporter for The Salt Lake Tribune while in Japan.
Selling the new housing areas to prospective students shouldn't be too difficult, administrators agree.
The survey of U students conducted by Fink and Associates revealed that almost 50 percent of freshmen live with their parents, and 23 percent of seniors live at home. In all, nearly a quarter of the U's populations live with Mom and Dad; a demographic that could be tapped with the right incentive.
And that catalyst may very well be the residence halls themselves.
The project is "going to change the living dynamics of our students so that there is a residential community on campus," Miller says. "I think that will have a great impact on the quality of the experience at the U.
"This is one of the most interesting projects in the Intermountain West in this decade," he adds. "It's very, very unique, which I think is very special for us."
--Karen Wolf is a writer with the University News Service. She formerly worked as a reporter for the Northwest Florida Daily News in Fort Walton Beach, Florida.
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