[Hpn] Handicapped accessible student housing will destroy older functional housing

William Charles Tinker wtinker@metrocast.net
Thu, 4 Nov 2004 06:53:40 -0500


Construction of new $20.2 million student housing set to begin

 November 4, 2004

By Andrew Stuart
Staff writer

    Construction on a massive new student housing complex on the Sul Ross
State University campus is scheduled to begin Nov. 15, though the university
and the development firm slated to manage the project are still completing
negotiations.
    Construction of the proposed complex would require the destruction of 41
historic rock and brick cottages on campus, which has elicited protests from
preservation-minded individuals in Alpine and in Austin.
    Mickey Havens, vice president for administrative services at Sul Ross,
said Tuesday (Nov. 2) the new complex will meet a long-standing need to
modernize student housing at the university. By providing better
accommodations, Havens said, the new complex will also assist the university
in recruiting and retaining students.
    "Our newest housing is 35 years old," Havens said, "and it goes back to
70 years old. We think this project will give us the type of housing the
students want."
    The complex is to include two three-story, 250-bed residence halls, 60
efficiency apartments and 40 married student apartments, and it will replace
all existing student housing facilities. Plans call for the first residence
hall to be completed by Aug. 15, 2005, with the remaining facilities to be
completed by Jan. 1, 2006.
    The university plans to fund the $20.2 million project, which is to be
overseen by Century Development of Houston, through state university system
revenue bonds.
    The new facilities will improve living conditions for students in a
number of ways, Havens said.
    In the new residential facility, each student will have a private
bedroom and will share a living room with another student, Havens said.
Students at the Mountainside Dorm, the university's current housing facility
for first- and second-year students, share bedrooms in four-person suites.
    All units in the new complex will have their own heating and air
conditioning; all of Mountainside Dorm is currently tied into a single
heating and cooling system, Havens said, and some housing units have no air
conditioning.
    The new housing will also be handicapped-accessible with elevators in
the residential buildings and rooms specifically designed for handicapped
students.
    Havens said rents for the new housing units will be slightly more than
in the current facilities. Family housing will likely cost between $400 and
$425 a month, compared to the current cost of $350. Rent in the residential
halls will be about $350 a month.
    The historic cottages include 16 stone cottages built in 1935 by members
of the Civilian Conservation Corps and 28 brick cottages constructed in
1948. The cluster of cottages has been determined to be eligible for listing
as a historic district in the national register of historic places.
    At Sul Ross, a group of students and staff calling itself the Save the
Cottages Campaign has collected more than 300 signatures opposing the
destruction of the cottages, said Elaine Peters, coordinator for the group's
efforts.
    "While encouraging upgrades to student housing, we strongly oppose the
destruction or alteration of any of these cottages or of the cottage village
as a whole," the group said in a statement. "While desirable, (the proposed
complex) is not essential, and could easily be redesigned to accommodate the
existing cottages or be moved elsewhere on campus."
    Peters said the cottages are important not only as historic artifacts,
but also as an element of Sul Ross' identity.
    "They represent Sul Ross," Peters said. "It really leaves a mark in
people's minds - it's something unique that you don't see at other
universities."
    The group is holding a meeting at 5 p.m. Monday (Nov. 8) in front of the
cottages in the Gallego Building parking lot, and persons interested in
signing petition can contact Peters at  epet128@sulross.edu  or
432.386.6186.
    Larry Oaks, executive director of the Texas Historical Commission,
echoed the group's concerns in an Oct. 26 letter to Havens.
    "These buildings are extremely significant, both historically and
architecturally," Oaks said. "(Demolition of the cottages) would be a
tremendous cultural and architectural loss, and we strongly encourage you to
consider alternatives to demolition."
    While most state institutions are required by Texas' antiquities code to
preserve historic structures, state universities are exempt from that
requirement.
    Havens said the university sympathized with the preservation concerns.
The university plans to leave three of the brick cottages intact.
    "We share their view," he said. "We did not set out to remove the rock
and brick cottages, but a series of studies brought us to this point."
    Havens said the university considered a range of options before deciding
to build the complex on the proposed site, including renovation of existing
facilities and construction of the complex on open land east of the campus.
    Both options presented higher costs, which, Havens said, would be passed
on to students in the form of higher rents.
    Building the complex east of campus, he said, would have required the
construction of a new cafeteria, as well as the extension of utilities to
the area. Havens estimated the additional cost at about $5 million.
    Also, Havens said, the central location of the proposed complex will
allow students easy access to recreation and exercise facilities, as well as
food services in the university center.


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