UI adds more housing

By Vanessa Miller, The Gazette

IOWA CITY — A new $31 million 444-bed housing complex for University of Iowa graduate students is 100-percent occupied — with a waitlist of 99 prospective tenants — just weeks after its debut.

UI officials said Friday they plan to meet the growing demand for such housing by building more graduate-specific units — providing another 400-some beds — as soon as next year.

“We have real student needs, and we want to meet those needs,” said Douglas True, UI senior vice president and treasurer. “So we will be back before the Board of Regents later this year.”

True spoke about the university’s housing demands Friday during a ceremony to celebrate its new Aspire at West Campus residential community, which includes five residential buildings with 270 apartments and a community center.

The Aspire apartment community replaces a portion of the old Hawkeye Court complex, which was built in 1968 west of campus and was razed after suffering significant damage during the 2008 flooding. The remaining Hawkeye Court units are scheduled for demolition in the coming months, and officials on Friday said they plan to go to the Board of Regents by early next year to ask for permission to begin work on more graduate housing in the new Aspire community by April 1, said project executive Dan Savoia.

The Aspire community is meant to replace the university’s family housing both along Hawkeye Court and Hawkeye Drive, where existing units will be razed once the Aspire complex is complete.

The family housing in both locations previously was available to a wide range of prospective tenants — including graduate students, international students and students with families. But the new Aspire community is geared specifically toward graduate students.

The 800 to 900 total beds that Aspire will offer will come in under the total that had been available at the old Hawkeye Court and Hawkeye Drive complexes. Project officials said there are no immediate graduate housing plans beyond Aspire, but the need exists.

“This is the beginning,” True said, adding that this first phase has been “very very successful.”

The university partnered with Balfour Beatty Investments and its subsidiaries of Dallas to oversee construction of the community, manage its financing, and managing the ongoing operations of the project through a 40-year ground lease.

The complex includes one- and two-bedroom apartments with modern kitchens, energy-efficient appliances, and open floor plans. Rent includes cable TV, Wi-Fi, water, sewer, and trash and recycling pickup.

Some apartments have been designated for resident assistants. The complex also includes a 5,400 square foot community center with a fitness center, laundry facility, and multipurpose room.

Benjamin Roberson, 22, is a UI law student from Portland, Ore., who moved into one of the new units Aug. 10 and said he quickly felt at home.

“I’m beginning to realize what community means to me,” Roberson said.

He talked about the people he’s met heading back and forth to campus via Cambus, and the fellow pet owners he’s gotten to know while taking his dog “Lola” for walks after school. Roberson said he got a job on the grounds and has met neighbors that way.

“We are slowly forming a community,” he said. “And I think it’s awesome that we get to have dogs and cats. Obviously I prefer the dogs.”

Construction officials said getting the project done in time for the fall semester was challenging considering the “bone-chilling” winter and wet spring. UI President Sally Mason on Friday voiced her approval of the completed project and said to its 400-plus new residents, “Welcome home, and go Hawkeyes.”

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