ProgressLex supports forums for engaged citizens and is happy to host a guest post from a group of citizens long active in the neighborhoods around the University.￼
UK Trustees missed an opportunity to take thought for the welfare of beginning students and the surrounding neighborhoods last Tuesday, when they approved without dissent a raise in dormitory rates that brings single rooms in the newer dorms to $1108 monthly. Only Faculty Trustee Irina Voro, who had read our earlier blog How High Can We Go?, abstained.
The dorm rates must have been pretty much a done deal before the Trustees met. They had voted to have them built back in October; now they were just voting to have the students pay for them. At their next meeting this May, however, they may face the question of authorizing MORE new dorm construction. Before that time, they should really think things over.
Here’s Our Plea to the University Trustees:
Please weigh carefully the premium dormitory rates you approved last week in FCR 14. Resolve to authorize no further new dormitory construction till 2016. Pause to take stock and let the present market stabilize. Aggressively pursue the rehabilitation of our finest older dormitories, preserving the modernist Donovan Hall especially. Assure that your approval of a new science building in FCR 8 did not authorize its demolition: find a safer and more central classroom site. And be mindful of the critical impact your decisions have on the financial security and well-being of University employees and homeowners who have invested in the surrounding neighborhoods. Your attention to the welfare of us all is appreciated.
And Here’s the Reason:
Students will pay $739 monthly to share a double room in the premium/EdR dormitories next fall, and $516 to share a standard double room. Singles will be $1108 monthly for premium/EdR rooms, and $774 standard. These are the rates authorized by the UK Trustees March 19th in FCR 14– up from $374 standard and $496 premium to share a double just eight years ago in 2005/6.
Not only the cost but also the proportion of premium rooms is climbing steeply, with the count almost doubling next fall when the 601 new EdR beds in the dorms on Haggin Field replace some 560 standard ones scheduled for May demolition in Haggin Hall next door. In the year following, fall 2014, some 2317 new EdR beds are scheduled to open. All 2918 of these new and replacement beds will be established at premium rates– with the total share of premium singles in the new EdR housing stock being over two-thirds, about 68%. Indeed by 2014 over 90% of the targeted goal of 9,000 total beds on campus will be in place already–some 8262 old and new beds together– if no further demolitions are authorized. Details of this EdR Phase IIa dormitory construction and its cost, including a 75-year term for the ground leases, were presented to the Finance Committee last October, before the Trustees voted to authorize the whole.
What about the Students?
These rates are shocking. A freshman’s premium single can run more than the family mortgage. And that is before the fees for parking (sited off at the Stadium, for all the EdR dorms), mandatory meal plans, and even a little extra for staying through the winter and spring breaks are added in. Summer is extra too. Rents like this–coupled with undergraduate tuition-and-fees increases from $5890 to $9966 per year over the same eight years 2005-2013–could put a UK education out of reach for a good number of Kentucky’s most able and deserving students. Will residence on campus be made mandatory for freshman and sophomores? It could turn some back to the regional and community colleges to start their degree. A steep increase in costs will lessen the academic engagement that is the primary reason for settling students in campus dormitories to begin with. It may well slow their progress to degree. Either they must lighten class loads to work part- and full-time, or incur the risk of insupportably high student loans.
And What about the Neighborhoods?
At the same time, high-cost campus housing is having an alarming impact on the University employees who make their homes nearby. Just this year the surrounding neighborhoods have seen a fresh rash of teardowns and enlargements to effect maximum density and maximum parking on the very smallest sites. Affordable housing is being driven from the city center at a tremendous rate. Gracious, traditional neighborhoods of low and medium density are grievously degraded by cramming.
In a time of economic hardship, UK faculty and staff cannot expect lavish increases in salary and research funds. Many are seeing their hours and benefits trimmed, and some are losing their jobs. It is imperative that the University do all it can to secure the value of their homes. Among the most substantial and lasting financial benefits the University can assure its employees is the stability, grace and comfort of nearby housing on affordable terms. Retirees are especially vulnerable. In no time, a hasty and ill-founded student housing policy can critically jeopardize this fundamental benefit of home ownership–tipping the balance past rescue for UK homeowners and their most stable neighbors.
What has set the neighborhoods in turmoil? $750 a month per bedroom looks very good to the local landlords and the national real estate investors both. So a massive and sudden increase in high-cost, high-density student housing is taking place off-campus, too–driven by the cost and availability set by the town’s biggest player, the University itself. EdR analysts, however, in proposing campus dormitory rates to the administration and Trustees, peg their proposed rents not to the rental rates in Lexington overall–but only to the rates of their most immediate rivals, the half-dozen or more new apartment blocks closest to campus. These have larger rooms, greater amenities, and convenient on-site parking.
And they have sprung up in a time when student accommodation was very scarce. Right now Lexington is among the hottest student real estate markets in the nation. Last year three of the commercial dormitories off campus made the PVA list of the 15 most valuable pieces of real estate in Fayette (H-L 10-8-12), and assessments are climbing. By a rough count, some 8-10,000 beds in high-density student housing off campus have been built or granted permits within the last decade. Thousands of new units have received development permits in the last three years alone. Though many are already occupied, several larger developments are not targeted to open till next fall.
Pause to Take Stock
As near neighbors to the University and its employees, we ask that the Trustees not approve any further new dormitory construction without first gauging the full impact of these radically increased costs. The housing marking is changing rapidly, and much is at stake for students and Lexington citizens alike. Pause to take stock for about two years. Fall 2014 sees the greater bulk of the new and high-cost campus housing open to student occupancy. Fall 2015 sees whether the next wave of freshmen chooses to return to it, and on what terms. Meanwhile a good many of the commercial dorms off-campus will have opened their doors as well. January 2016, then, is soon enough to make further decisions on new campus housing. We ask that the University involve faculty and staff, the near neighborhoods, and Lexington/Fayette administration and Council in reviewing the data and making best choices for the ongoing welfare of the students and the surrounding communities together.
A Better Path
Finally we urge that in the interim the University take a hard look at restoring and updating existing dormitory stock. Much of it is built to a standard higher than construction projects in the present economy can possibly afford to attain. FC Resolution 8, authorizing a new science building, should not entail targeting Donovan Hall for demolition, nor the unique and dramatic Wenner Gren Lab next door.
Donovan with its elegant modernist canopy is a soundly designed and well-built dormitory, air-conditioned, supplying 338 beds we can ill afford to lose. A classroom site closer to the academic center of campus can and must be found: the science building replacing Chem-Phys will see the second-highest classroom use on campus. Masses of students simply cannot get from the Donovan site across Rose through campus to the Whitehall Classroom Building or Barker/Armory and beyond in ten minutes’ passing period.
Dorms Holmes and Jewell, UK’s first women’s halls, should be targeted for rehabilitation as well. Like Funkhauser and Memorial Coliseum, they are the work of noted architect Ernst Johnson, who gave UK its finest mid-century modern designs (19-24). The Kirwan-Blanding complex, work of the nationally-recognized architect Edward Durell Stone (photos 25-28), has already been identified as a good candidate for preservation and upgrading through the UK master planning process. These dormitories represent, in all, some 3,250 beds that can far more quickly and easily be improved and returned to student use, at a more moderate cost. Across the nation, other campuses encountering the same gradual obsolescence in pre- and post-war campus housing stock are doing the same. As Jane Jacobs well recognized, new building is expensive building. We all thrive best with diversity of housing choices.
We Beg You:
Please weigh carefully the premium dormitory rates you approved last week in FCR 14. Resolve to authorize no further new dormitory construction till 2016. Pause to take stock and let the present market stabilize. Aggressively pursue the rehabilitation of our finest older dormitories, preserving the modernist Donovan Hall especially. Assure that your approval of a new science building in FCR 8 does not authorize its demolition: find a safer and more central classroom site. And be mindful of the critical impact your decisions have on the financial security and well-being of University employees and homeowners who have invested in the surrounding neighborhoods. Your attention to the welfare of us all is appreciated.
Amy Clark, Hollywood Terrace
Daniel Cooper, Aylesford
Virginia Daley, Burley American
Robert L. Kelly, North Elizabeth
Daniel Rowland, North Limestone
Catherine Savage, Columbia Heights