Shepherd University officials held a ground-breaking ceremony Wednesday morning to celebratte and kick off construction of a new state-of-the-art residence hall on West Campus. The project is scheduled for completion by August 2017.
According to information shared at the ceremony, the 80,866 square foot, $22 million residence hall is being built through a public-private partnership, a first for Shepherd.
Guests at the event, hosted by Shepherd President Mary J.C. Hendrix, included Chancellor Paul Hill, West Virginia Higher Education Policy Commission; Christine Hewett, representing Sen. Joe Manchin; Dr. Marcia Brand, chair of the Shepherd Board of Governors; James Vigil, vice president for administration and acting vice president for finance at Shepherd; Timothy McShea, Shepherd University Foundation board of directors member; and Tom Turbiana, president of EdR.
The university, the Shepherd University Foundation Sustaining Organization and EdR Collegiate Housing, a private company that has built and manages student housing in a number of states, are partnering to construct the residence hall on the West Campus near the Center for Contemporary Arts I. EdR Collegiate Housing was selected to oversee all aspects of the development of the project including financing, design and construction.
Turbiana told those gathered Wednesday that as a Resident Assistant (RA) at West Virginia University, he found his passion in working with college students and their housing and residence halls.
The Live and Learn facility being constructed at Shepherd will attract the best students and lead to higher graduation rates, Turbiana said.
“This will propel future Shepherd students to great heights,” he concluded.
According to Vigil, bond participation notes issued through the West Virginia Economic Development Authority are paying for construction of the building. Once construction is complete and Shepherd receives a certificate of occupancy, the Shepherd University Foundation Sustaining Organization (SUFSO) will use a 40-year USDA Rural Development Office loan to pay off the bond notes. SUFSO will own the building, and Shepherd will manage and maintain it.
“We felt in order for us to be competitive, we needed to have more modern and current residence hall facilities on our campus,” Vigil said. “I’m really excited. I think this is a game changer for the university. I think this is one of the pieces we need in order to grow our enrollment again.”
As alluded to by Trubiana, recruitment and retention of students is key to every strategic plan the university has ever had.
“The new residence hall will attract students and encourage them to stay and make the most of the on-campus experience,” Vigil said.
The new air-conditioned residence hall will have 298 beds in a mix of double occupancy and private rooms with no more than two students sharing a bathroom. There will also be nine units for resident assistants and residence hall directors, laundry facilities, shared kitchen space, study and social lounges, classroom space and a full service dining facility with an outdoor eating area.
Shepherd also plans to make changes to its existing residence halls to better accommodate students’ expectation of more amenities and privacy. Vigil said there are plans to renovate Kenamond and Gardiner halls on the East Campus, which were built in the late 1960s. On the West Campus, Shaw and Thacher halls, which opened in 1970, will remain traditional residence halls. The six West Woods buildings, which opened in 1985 and 1990, and the apartments, which opened in 2006, will offer more private rooms and house fewer students.
“Right now they’re primarily double occupancy rooms and what we found in surveying our students is they want more privacy especially as they mature in their college career,” Vigil said. “It’s okay when you’re a freshman to have a roommate and share a bathroom down the hall with 25 other people on your wing, but as you begin to mature, you want more privacy, you may even want a kitchen, and you don’t want to share a bedroom either. We’re sensitive to that.”
Vigil said the desire for more amenities is reflected in the occupancy rate of the various residence halls. During the 2015-2016 school year, the occupancy rate in the less expensive East Campus halls that lack air conditioning-Gardiner, Turner, and Kenamond-was 72 percent. The more expensive air-conditioned halls on West Campus-Thacher, Shaw and West Woods-had an occupancy rate of 88.80 percent, while the rate in the apartments-Printz and Dunlop, which are the most expensive housing on campus–was 89.50 percent.
“That gives you an example of the fact that students are making conscious choices to either not live on campus because we don’t have what they want or to live in a more expensive residence hall because it’s more comfortable for them,” Vigil said.
Vigil said the new residence hall will not be the most expensive housing offered. At a proposed cost of $3,300 per semester for a double room and $4,800 for a single, it will cost slightly less than the Printz and Dunlop apartments. The new residence hall will also available between semesters for conferences.