A Larger Scale: 10th Annual Residence Hall Construction Report

July 1, 1999
Not only does it cost more per square foot, per resident and in total to build new housing facilities, but also today's residence halls are larger, accommodate more students and provide more square feet per resident.

If "more" is the unofficial motto of the stock market's performance over the past few years, the same can be said about new residence-hall construction at colleges and universities in the United States.

Not only does it cost more per square foot, per resident and in total to build new housing facilities, but also today's residence halls are larger, accommodate more students and provide more square feet per resident. The total cost of a median new residence hall built in 1998 topped $4.1 million, according to American School & University's 10th annual survey of college-housing construction. And, at more than $130 per square foot, costs are at their highest level since this survey's inception.

A breakdown of the components of a median new residence hall constructed in 1998:

-Cost: $4.1 million.

-Size: 32,500 square feet.

-Residents: 120.

-Cost/Square Foot: $130.51.

-Square Feet/Resident: 294.

-Cost/Resident: $37,662.

Survey methodology

Information for the 10th annual Residence Hall Construction Report was compiled as part of AS&U's larger Official Education Construction Report (published in May). Chief business officials at the nation's colleges and universities involved in a residence-hall construction project were asked to provide information about a variety of cost and amenities issues. Data were collected on 30 new housing projects put in place in 1998, amounting to almost 1.4 million square feet and costing approximately $203 million.

Table 1 breaks out information from lowest to highest, and by averages and medians. The editors recommend that when comparing costs and figures with those of your project, use the median figures listed. Medians are determined to provide more accurate cost and size variables than averages.

New residence halls constructed in 1998 ranged in price from a low of $1.5 million to a high of $28 million. The median project cost $4.1 million; the average cost more than $6.7 million. Project size varied from 8,025 square feet to 160,000 square feet. The median residence hall included 32,500 square feet of space, while the average project had 52,487 square feet.

The median new housing facility accommodated 120 residents. The number of beds ranged from 44 at the smallest project to 425 at the largest. Cost per resident ballooned to $29,205 from $27,200 in 1997. Colleges and universities realize the benefits of providing quality, sought-after housing on campus-and are sparing little expense.

Attention to the amount of space provided per student is not only being addressed in the classroom, but also in residence halls. Almost 300 square feet per resident is provided at the median housing facility constructed in 1998.

This is up from the 250 square feet of space provided per resident in 1997. The amount of square feet per resident ranged from a low of 73 to a high of 545. Square-footage costs reported for projects completed in 1998 varied from a low of $67 to a high of $514. The median residence hall cost $130.51 per square foot, while the average project cost $151.60 per square foot.

All the comforts

Amenities offered in today's residence halls are in response to student needs and desires. Such popular features as Internet access, aerobics/weightrooms, and more are found in a growing number of new projects. One trend is that new housing facilities primarily are being built as co-educational (90 percent).

In addition, of the 30 new housing projects data were collected on for 1998, 91.4 percent of the construction was air-conditioned (up from 86.2 percent reported in last year's survey). While air conditioning continues to grow, carpeting in new residence halls continues to drop. The percentage of space covered was 47.8 percent, down from 65.5 percent reported in 1997.

Amenities featured in today's new residence halls are outlined in Table 2. Almost all areas tracked reported increases.

Internet access, television rooms and laundry facilities were incorporated into more than 90 percent of new residence halls. Other common amenities included computer access to the library (80 percent), security systems (80 percent) and elevators (73 percent).

While almost two-thirds of new facilities include kitchens, dining halls are not prominent (6.7 percent). Classrooms and aerobics/weightrooms also are becoming more common in residence halls.

A surprising development was reported in restroom facilities in new residence halls. Shared lavatories were included in almost two-thirds of new housing construction, while individual room/apartment lavatories dropped to 56.7 percent from 72.4 percent. Gang lavatories continued their downward trend, as they were included in only 3.3 percent of new housing facilities.

Project snapshot: The College of Santa Fe

The College of Santa Fe, N.M., decided to take a different approach to construction when they needed additional housing for upper-class students. The college was interested in constructing healthy housing as an alternative to traditional methods of residence-hall construction. By incorporating "green" methods and materials, the college could monitor the environmental impact of the building, and teach their students a global lesson locally.

The building, completed last August, contributes to the reduced energy consumption of the campus by having increased insulation in the walls and roof, using a low-energy heating system with individual thermostatic controls, and windows and doors that reduce heat loss.

The building's design includes two undergraduate residence clusters, each containing 24 two-bedroom apartments in a compact layout. Each apartment complex is built around a common courtyard, which uses less space, and helps make heating and cooling more efficient. The modular design also minimizes the waste of construction materials.

Landscapes are created with native plants that grow easily in the high-desert climate, and are supplemented by a timed, drip-irrigation system for deep but infrequent waterings. Inside the building, the open web, pre-engineered roof and floor trusses minimize the lumber used for structural purposes. Composite wood products were incorporated in the walls and roof sheathing.

Architect for the project was Dekker/Perich/Sabatini.

Project snapshot: Northern Illinois University

When Northern Illinois University, Dekalb, decided to upgrade and redesign its residence hall, administrators faced a variety of challenges. The renovation work, which focused on the interior of the 1960s-era building, expanded the living space of its residents, giving them more privacy and flexibility.

The old residence hall housed 2,000 students in four, 10-story towers. Each tower was segregated with identical rooms, dining area and lobby. After the $10.6 million renovation was complete, the building was able to accommodate 1,280 students and is designed to promote a sense of community, as well as privacy and flexibility.

Completed last October, the residence hall now has an open, central space and a pedestrian street through the middle with a deck and cafe open to the street. To bring in natural light, round bubble-top skylights and linear slope-top skylights were incorporated.

The old cafeteria-style dining areas were replaced with food courts, where students can choose from pizza, a bakery, grilled foods and ethnic foods. In the rooms, built-ins were removed and replaced with movable pieces to accommodate computers. The rooms also have vinyl-composition tile flooring and painted walls accented with color. Telephone systems were upgraded, and residents now can control their own heat and cooling systems. Redesigned bathrooms feature ceramic tile and accommodate 12 students instead of 25.

Architect for the project was Solomon Cordwell Buenz.

Project snapshot: Washington University

In an attempt to improve the residential student housing at Washington University, St. Louis, three new residence halls are being constructed at the college. The $17.7 million project, which began construction last fall, is slated for completion early this summer. A $3 million parking structure also is being constructed.

The three buildings vary in size from 64,000 to 84,000 square feet, and together will house 450 students. The project is on a fast-track schedule of 10 months, with most of the work being completed last winter.

The new residence halls are part of a plan to transform all of the undergraduate housing facilities on the university's campus into a residential college model. One goal of the project is to create a close-knit community among the students living in the residence halls, and to promote student learning and personal development.

The new residence halls will be more than just traditional dormitories-they will feature seminar rooms, libraries and study rooms.

The accompanying 340-car, two-level parking structure will be built into a hillside.

McCarthy is construction manager for the project. Architect for the residence-hall project is Mackey Mitchell & Associates; architect for the parking garage is Desman & Associates.

Agron is editor-in-chief of AS&U.

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