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Regents approve housing plans

Profile image for By Jenna Duncan / Staff Writer
By Jenna Duncan / Staff Writer

UNT working toward adding hundreds of new beds at Denton campus

The University of North Texas is beginning to plan for additional on-campus housing by 2015 to accommodate an anticipated need of 600 to 800 new beds.

During a meeting this week, the Board of Regents authorized university officials to begin planning for that. That includes hiring consultants for the projects using up to $1.2 million from the UNT housing and auxiliary services that will be reimbursed with bond funds.

“[On-campus housing] is just a better educational environment, and the demand for it is increasing,” UNT President Lane Rawlins said. “We’re looking at this not only as just where somebody is going to sleep but as part of the future of UNT.”

In an introduction to the board, John Maguire, vice chancellor for facilities planning and construction, said university officials will hire consultants to conduct market research, financial analysis, project type and architectural design in the coming months. Maguire will present the results during a meeting in August with a recommendation for how many beds and residence halls would accommodate the need.

The building or buildings will most likely be located on one of several current parking lots near the center of campus and house primarily freshmen and sophomores, Maguire said.

To help fund the project, Andrew Harris, vice president for finance and administration, estimated that room rates for students would need to increase 8 percent to 9 percent each year for several years.

While the department’s reserve for housing maintenance and renewal fluctuates between $15 million and $25 million, these funds are needed for continued improvements to existing buildings.

The annual average room rate increase is 3.5 percent. Elizabeth With, vice president for student affairs, said university housing costs would still be reasonable compared to peer institutions. UNT is one of the cheapest and this increase, which averages to about $500 to $600 a year depending on the residence hall, will place rates in the middle range, she said.

While an additional building was approved in the meeting, Maguire also updated the facilities committee on five other construction projects that are in the planning stages, reminding the regents that the plans are not final.

“There’s cautious optimism with respect to the funding of some portion of these,” Maguire said. “For the purposes of this exercise, we took the completely optimistic position that all of them would be funded as a way to estimate what would be the total impact on our system.”

The UNT Science and Research building will be a 167,700-square-foot facility that will cost an estimated $98 million. It is set to be built in the science corridor section of the main campus with an open-concept research laboratory space for multiple disciplines, instructional space and administrative support areas.

The UNT College of Visual Arts and Design building will be just east of the current art building in the northeast corner of campus, taking up 165,700 square feet.

The $92 million project is scheduled to begin early in 2014 and include specialized teaching labs, studios, classrooms and lecture halls, as well as art galleries and student exhibition spaces.

At the Health Science Center in Fort Worth, a new 150,000-square-foot building will hold the UNT Health Science Center Interdisciplinary Research Building, with a project budget of $90 million. At UNT Dallas, a 160,000-square-foot library and student center will be added for $70 million.

The UNT system College of Law building will restore the historic municipal building in downtown Dallas.

The university is responsible for restorations inside the building that will include classrooms and seminar rooms, costing $56 million, with $26 million in gifts and donations helping to fund the project.

The funding for the projects was discussed at length, as the university applied for $307.6 million in tuition revenue bond financing and would have an additional $98.4 million in other financing.

With three other construction projects under way, the university will borrow $519 million to cover construction costs, and once paid back, will cost $595 million.

Some regents expressed concern the bond rating could drop because of an increased amount of debt, but Allen Clemson, vice chancellor for administration and interim vice president for finance, said a lowered rating was not as important as ensuring these projects are completed as soon as possible.

To move forward with the projects, Clemson reported the university would review project cash flows, develop funding and financial plans for each project, and schedule a finance committee meeting to continue the funding discussion. Additionally, they will consult a financial adviser to review funding and financing options and alternatives.

Maguire also noted that the partial demolition of Fouts Field is slated to begin in June to remove three sections of bleachers and replace them with turf. The southwest section of the bleachers will remain, and the field will serve as a temporary track field.

JENNA DUNCAN can be reached at 940-566-6889 and via Twitter at @JennaFDuncan.