UH dorm plans plow ahead
|Video: See video of last night's meeting at the University of Hawai'i between students and a representative of American Campus Communities, developer of new dorms at Frear Hall|
By Loren Moreno
Advertiser Staff Writer
By Loren Moreno
The University of Hawai'i-Manoa is preparing to tear down the vacant Frear Hall dormitory to make way for its $61 million replacement, the first new campus housing in nearly three decades.
The new dorm is the first of three such developments expected to add a total of 1,700 badly needed beds to the campus. The dorm is scheduled to be completed by fall 2008.
But not everyone is excited that Manoa is moving quickly to finalize preparations for construction of the 800-bed residential building — the first dormitory to be built on the Manoa campus since 1978.
Student government members complain that the dorms were not designed with students in mind and that the cost to live there would be so high that only the wealthiest students could afford them.
"Our biggest concern is that the whole process is being rushed," said Grant Teichman, president of the Associated Students of UH-Manoa. "The student government knows as well as anyone how important it is to have more housing on campus. But for the first dorm in 30 years, we need to ask ourselves if we're taking shortcuts and if we're really doing the best job we could," he said.
Last night, members of ASUH's executive committee met with an official from American Campus Communities, the Texas-based student housing developer charged with building and managing the dorms, to discuss concerns they have with the new Frear Hall design.
"Since we got word about the design, we've realized that students are not happy with it," Matthew Gerhardt, an ASUH member who worked closely with dorm issues last school year, said before last night's meeting. "We'd like an explanation about what ACC has done, the reasons they are doing it and if anything can still be changed."
Jason Wills, vice president of American Campus Communities, gave a detailed presentation of design plans to members of ASUH and the Manoa administration last night. Wills told students that the design process took into account input from three campus focus groups and from surveys submitted by more than 3,000 students — about 18 percent of the UH-Manoa student body.
ASUH members told Wills they are concerned with the lack of common space in each individual unit. For instance, a proposed four-bedroom unit is connected by a bathroom but lacks a living room, unlike other apartment units on campus.
"There are certain aspects we are not in a position to go back and change," Wills said. "Candidly, I think we've made appropriate decisions."
While Wills told ASUH that the layout of the rooms could not be changed, he said the company is willing to solicit student input on aspects such as the layout of building common spaces, other aspects of interior design and dorm management policies. He said the company would like to create a committee of students who could provide that input.
SHORTAGE OF SPACE
Even with their concerns, students say they understand the need for new dorms at the university.
UH has been short of dorm space in the face of soaring enrollment in recent years, and replacement dorms for the unoccupied Frear Hall are expected to help address the problem. Frear Hall has not housed students since 1997. It was closed after severe plumbing and electrical problems developed and has deteriorated since.
Teichman has submitted a list of 11 grievances to the Manoa administration, including a request to hold off on moving forward with the new dorms until a new vice chancellor for students is appointed. Interim Vice Chancellor for Students Wayne Iwaoka's term expires Oct 1.
UH officials say the earliest that a new vice chancellor would be appointed is in the fall, too far off to put the dorms on hold.
"While we have a certain amount of flexibility in the construction schedule, we do hope to move along a little more quickly than that" to meet the fall 2008 deadline, said Jim Manke, UH-Manoa spokesman.
PLANS MOVE AHEAD
Teichman said he understands the need to move quickly with the dorms, but he said he became concerned after ASUH met with two of the three candidates for the vice chancellor position and both "remarked that we were making mistakes with the new dormitory."
"We are asking everyone to just hold up so we can get the new leadership on board and let them use their experience and give input," Teichman said.
Iwaoka responded in writing to ASUH denying their request to put the dorm plans on hold.
Manoa interim chancellor Denise Konan met with students last week to discuss concerns about the new Frear Hall design. Teichman said the students still have the same concerns and ASUH's list of grievances did not change as a result of that meeting.
A dust fence that started going up around Frear Hall on May 19 is partially complete. Demolition of the building is expected to begin June 26 and last for about three weeks. Construction is scheduled to begin in February 2007.
COST OF LIVING
One of ASUH's main concerns is that the cost to live in the new Frear Hall will be substantially more than that of other Manoa dorms.
"Right now the price for the new dorms is going to be outrageous for students. Student government is concerned it is going to create a class system among students," Teichman said.
Students can expect to pay $4,250 to $6,990 per year for the new dorm space, according to American Campus Communities. At present, dorm students pay $2,817 to $5,427 a year for housing, according to the UH-Manoa Web site.
That's unacceptable to Teichman, who said that only "rich" students will be able to afford to live in the new Frear Hall.
"You're going to have probably local kids staying in the old dorms and people who can pay out-of-state (tuition) living in the new dorms. I don't think that completes the mission of our school," Teichman said.
However, university officials say that UH dorm prices are lower than those of many other college campuses around the country.
"Frankly, I think our room rates are low in comparison to other institutions. There has been a reluctance to raise the rates in any significant way because the dorms have not been improved," Manke said.
REGENTS ALSO WORRIED
Students are not the only ones with that worry. In January, some UH regents expressed concern that the dorm plans were too luxurious and that the high construction costs would have to be passed along to students.
Teichman also said students worry that the building will create an unfriendly atmosphere, since it is being designed to "include choke points to restrict student movement" and prevent "large groups of students from just walking by the front desk without each individual person checking in," Teichman said.
The university has not finalized any particular security feature, although Manke said checkpoints for residents "are not unreasonable" and that they serve to keep students safe and secure.
"If there are physical or environmental things that we can do to ensure safety, then it's our obligation to put them in place," Manke said.
He said current residents in the dorms have been consulted during the design and planning phase of the project.
Reach Loren Moreno at email@example.com.
Correction: Demolition of Frear Hall on the University of Hawai'i-Manoa campus is scheduled to start on June 26. The date was incorrect in an earlier version of this story.