SIU housing proposal would tear down towers, construct low-rise dorms


Cars drive past East Campus housing Sunday, Nov. 20, 2016, in the 1000 block of South Wall Street in Carbondale. (Bill Lukitsch | @lukitsbill)

By Marnie Leonard

The SIU Board of Trustees is set to consider a $257 million housing construction plan that officials hope will increase student enrollment and improve retention rates.

If the board approves the plan at its Dec. 8 meeting, Neely, Mae Smith and Schneider halls, collectively referred to as “the towers,” will be torn down and replaced with new residence halls over the next decade. Student fees would increase at variable rates during that time period to counter the cost of investment bonds that would be sold to fund the start-up costs of the project. 

SIU President Randy Dunn said this increase is not likely to deter prospective students from enrolling at the university and thinks it will “build the attractiveness of the campus as a whole.”


“Families today are willing to pay a price for something that’s seen as a good value,” Dunn said. “Right now, the towers aren’t seen as a good value.”

In 2012, the university hired Brailsford & Dunlavey, a project management firm that works with higher education institutions during construction and renovation projects, to devise a master plan for the next 25 to 50 years of university housing. The firm found that the nearly 50-year-old residence halls would either need extensive renovation or total reconstruction to last another half-century.

University Housing Director Jon Shaffer said maintenance costs about $2 million to $4 million a year on things like roof replacements, new plumbing, elevator repairs and carpet installation. The consultants found that renovating the towers would cost about $233 million, a 10 percent difference from the cost of constructing entirely new buildings.

“This will be the housing for the future,” Shaffer said.

In terms of housing costs, Shaffer said SIUC ranks seventh of the state’s 12 public universities, and despite raising housing fees, the university will retain that “middle-of-the-pack” status.

The initial costs for construction would be paid for by selling bonds to investors, Shaffer said. This money would need to be paid back with interest after between 30 and 40 years of maturation, he said.

Enrollment at the university has been in a downward trend for the last 20 years. There were 1,305 fewer students in Fall 2016 compared to the previous year, a drop of 7.6 percent. University Housing is requesting a 6 percent fee increase for the first year of the project to balance revenue lost from room and board, which is the only source of income the auxiliary department receives.


With the proposed fee increase, the initial cost of residence halls would go up by 6 percent and apartment fees would increase by 3 percent. This would amount to $600 more a year for double and triple dorm rooms and $185 more for four-person apartments.

Fees would continue to go up based off those of each previous year. The second year of the project would include a 5 percent increase, the third year would go up by 4 percent and the fourth year of the project would see a 3 percent housing fee increase.

The project is split into four phases, beginning with the construction of two five-story buildings in the open grassy space east of Trueblood Hall. These would contain 920 total beds, which students would move into while 17-story Schneider Hall is demolished.

This part of the project is estimated to take about two years to complete at a cost of $90 million to $100 million. Shafer said construction would ideally begin in Fall 2018 and the buildings would be move-in ready by Fall 2020.

Phase two is a complete renovation of Grinnell Hall. This new dining hall would be a departure from the traditional cafeteria-style method of preparing and serving food.

The dining unit would feature speciality stations like a pizza oven, rotisserie station, sub sandwich counter and omelette bar. There would be a focus on presentation-style cooking instead of making food in a back kitchen, which, Shaffer said, has the added benefit of creating more space for seating.

Construction would then start on two more five-story buildings in the space currently occupied by Schneider Hall. When these buildings are completed, students would move into the 920 now-available beds and Mae Smith Hall would be torn down.

As phase three of the project gets closer, the fees would rise back up to 6 percent before gradually going back down again, Shaffer said.  If enrollment is at a point where more living space is needed, phase four would begin. One more residence hall would go up west of Trueblood Hall and Neely Hall would be demolished.  

The project is also expected to bolster enrollment numbers, which Dunn said the aging East Campus housing “has been an impediment to.”

Dunn said the rise of students attending college in the late 1960s and 1970s meant universities had to build high-rise dorms to accommodate the rapid growth.

“It made a lot of sense to build high-rises and fill them with hundreds of students,” Dunn said.

Today, he added, that is not the case.

Shaffer agreed, and said he has heard negative things about the towers from prospective and current students. The high-rise style dorms force a lot of people into a small area, which is “not what today’s students want,” Shaffer said.

When students are deciding where to go to college, they pick a major first. After that, they start “shopping” for  housing, said Lori Stettler, interim vice chancellor of student affairs.

“Our outdated housing has outlived its useful life,” Stettler said. “It’s at a point where it needs to be replaced with modern housing for our students.”

If the board of trustees approves the proposal at its December meeting, nine to 12 months of architectural planning would be needed to get blueprints completed before beginning construction. If the board doesn’t approve the plan, Stettler said, the project would be brought back to the drawing board.

Part of the draw of the new buildings will be a focus on a more homelike environment, Shaffer said.  Each new building will have five floors, which will each have either two or three wings. Each wing is considered its own “house,” and will be home to no more than 18 students, he said.

Shaffer said he is trying to get away from the anonymous feeling students may have when living in the towers, which have the capacity to house 50 students on each floor.

“That’s a pretty daunting number of folks to be around,” he said.

There will be two houses on each floor for a total of 36 students. Each house has its own lounge, and a larger lounge will join the two houses in the middle, almost like a living room, Shaffer said. Study rooms will connect the wings on each floor together.

To make the area more attractive to prospective students, Shaffer said there will be an emphasis on open hangout spaces. A pond would be put in where Neely Hall sits now, and an open quad area will be maintained for sports and student programming.

During construction, Shaffer said, attention will be given to preserving as much of the existing landscape and trees as possible. He said he expects to see construction equipment on the site in summer 2018 and looks forward to breaking ground.

“Whenever I show students these plans, they get really excited,” Shaffer said. “This will be a net positive for campus.”

Staff writer Marnie Leonard can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter @marsuzleo.

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