Plan in hand, VU sets sights on new dorms

2012-09-21T16:36:00Z 2012-09-23T00:16:38Z Plan in hand, VU sets sights on new dormsPhil Wieland phil.wieland@nwi.com, (219) 548-4352 nwitimes.com
September 21, 2012 4:36 pm  • 

VALPARAISO | With a new master plan calling for possibly more than 20 new classroom buildings, residences and sports facilities costing tens of millions of dollars over the next 20 years, Valparaiso University President Mark Heckler and the board of directors have their work cut out for them.

The plan was unveiled Thursday but was adopted by the board in April. Heckler said the delay was because announcing it in May would have coincided with final exams and the fact most students and faculty already were focusing on summer vacation. In the meantime, the university has been involved in working on how to implement the master plan's vision.

Heckler said Friday he and the board will be meeting soon with the capital planning and investment committee and with the university's investment bankers to examine the projected financial models for the endowment funds over the next 20 to 30 years to try to figure out the best method to fund the expansion.

"We will determine what kind of projects to bond and build, what makes sense to finance through fundraising and what can be funded through student fees, such as the recreational facilities," Heckler said. "We will do an analysis of what the options are and which projects make sense for which funding mechanism."

The first building project is likely to be a new residence hall, which Heckler said the university could build on its own or have built and lease the space. He hopes to break ground next summer. The current residences were built in the 1960s and do not meet today's standards.

"They are all 100-year buildings and nothing short of a bomb will take them down, but the bad news is people's style of living changes and the buildings don't. They had showers down the hall when I went to school, but people are used to a private bed and bath now."

He said research shows the old style of communal living with two to a room and the bath down the hall results in a higher propensity for students to advance to the second year of study because they are forced to socialize and become more engaged in the campus community. That tendency declines in succeeding years, he said.

"We will keep a certain percentage of the residency space in that stock, but we should give students incremental steps toward independence. By the time they are seniors, they have an apartment with a kitchen and they are dealing with their own upkeep and are ready to step right out into the world."

The first dorm will be a suite style "somewhere between what we have and Uptown East," he said. The board also is looking at the academic side of the plan and which building should be given top priority. He expects another major fundraising campaign soon for that building. Then it will be on to the athletic facilities and the best way to fund them.

"If we get those three things done, we will have some breathing room on how to proceed after that," Heckler said. "What we can't predict are the targets of opportunity that might open up. We are making our best guesses on the basis of anticipated needs. We can't predict what might emerge as a need 10 years from now that we can't imagine today.

"No doubt there will be some surprises and opportunities that happen along the way, but we've got this general framework to guide us. After a time, it will be interesting to look back and see what we got done. Little by little, we will whittle away at it."

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