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University of Iowa Shapes New Dorm to Meet Student Expectations

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IOWA CITY, Iowa - When the University of Iowa last built a residence hall in 1968, there was no need for wireless Internet in every room, no plans for energy-efficient green design and no qualms about offering communal bathrooms shared by dozens of students.

But student expectations and needs have changed, officials say, and off-campus living options for students have increased.

So in designing the UI's first new residence hall in nearly 45 years, university officials plan for semiprivate restrooms that offer a locked door and private shower, more group study and lounge areas, "green" electrical outlets that shut off power when not in use and occupancy sensors that adjust lighting and temperature when a room is unoccupied.

Students want more privacy, especially in bathrooms, more lounge and study space, more technology access and more environmentally-friendly design, higher education officials say.

"I think students probably want a better balance of community and privacy," Von Stange, UI senior director of university housing and dining, said. "And they want more of the conveniences."

Schools are incorporating these expectations into designs for new student housing, and are remodeling older, traditional residence halls to include more modern touches: converting some double rooms into singles; re-purposing communal bathrooms into smaller, semiprivate restrooms; adding amenities like sinks and temperature control to each room; and making sure wireless access and electronic capacity keep up with demand.

"We have found that students who live on campus earn better grades and they're more likely to graduate, so we want to keep our students living on campus," said Carol Petersen, interim executive director of residence and director of dining at the University of Northern Iowa.

UNI this fall will open phase one of Panther Village apartment housing, a mix of four-bedroom, two-bedroom and studio apartments. The rooms will be wheelchair accessible, have data ports, cable TV and wireless access, and each trash room will have recycling stations.

Student input played a role in deciding what type of housing to build, Petersen said, and UNI is taking one older, traditional-style dorm offline and replacing it with the apartments.

"Many students come from a home where they have their own room and sometimes their own bathroom," she said. "It's the privacy issue. They want more of that."

Dorm with a 'twist'

The UI's new $53 million residence hall is slated to open in fall 2015 to house 501 students. It will be a "twist" on the traditional residence hall, Stange said, with the same shared rooms but more semiprivate bathrooms, smaller floor populations to incorporate living-learning communities, more shared study and lounge space and a grab-and-go cafe. There will be more of an academic component to the building, he said.

UI junior Aubry Kunze, 20, remembers the communal bathroom on her floor in Slater Hall "took some getting used to." The lack of bathroom privacy and small closets were her biggest complaints. She moved off campus with friends after her freshman year.

"I wanted more space to myself," she said.

Offering more privacy and personal space could keep more students on campus, said Kunze, a communication studies major from Charter Oak.

Learning component

University and college officials say they want to straddle that line, offering more privacy while still keeping students involved with a living community. Working with residence hall neighbors and learning to negotiate with a roommate helps students build important skills and a connection to campus, officials said.

"These are skills that are essential and actually show in student retention rates," Coe College Dean of Students Erik Albinson said.

The learning component also is a larger part of residence halls now, officials said. There is more focus on having group study space and sometimes even classrooms in the buildings. Colleges are incorporating more living-learning communities, where students with similar academic or social interests live together on a floor.

"Traditional residence halls were just a place to sleep," Albinson said. "Now their focus is a lot more on student learning."

Iowa State University completed a $212 million, five-year residence hall overhaul in 2000 that replaced some older, traditional-style dorms with suite-style and apartment housing, to meet student demand for more privacy and single-room options, Residence Director Pete Englin said. That's the type of housing private developers offer, he said, and competition has increased from private renters. Having a mix traditional dorms, suites and apartments better meets student needs, Englin said.

"Students love the choices," he said.

ISU three years ago added a computer system that allows students to see available openings in university housing, and they can change their room assignments electronically. Already this summer, more than 700 students have moved their fall room assignment.

"Giving opportunities to relocate puts them in the driver's seat, because we really want them to be happy, we want them to be successful, we want them to be engaged," Englin said.

Dining areas

Changing to meet student expectations also applies to dining. Students want more of a "marketplace" experience as opposed to a cafeteria, with fresh choices.

Cornell College's food service provider, Bon Appetit, makes offerings from scratch and uses locally grown products, said Nadeem Siddiqui, a Bon Appetit employee who works with Cornell. Students today are more conscious about where their food comes from, how it's prepared and its environmental impact, he said. There's also a growing need for vegetarian, vegan, gluten-free and dietary-specific options, he said.

Student interest led to expanded late-night hours at Cornell's campus grill, and students are running it, called Moonlight Cafe, from midnight to 2 a.m. on weekends, Cornell Vice President for Student Affairs John Harp said.

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