University of Kentucky trustees expected to approve two new dorms on Limestone

lblackford@herald-leader.comJanuary 31, 2014 

The University of Kentucky Board of Trustees is expected to vote Friday afternoon on the next step of an ambitious campus housing plan — building two large residence halls on the corner of South Limestone and Avenue of Champions that will house more than 1,100 students.

Five buildings on that corner will be razed to make room for the new dorms.

If approved, the plan will eventually bring 5,733 new beds to campus at a cost of $348 million. That money has been provided by Education Realty Trust (EdR), a Memphis-based development company that has put up all the equity for the dorms and would control them for decades to come.

UK President Eli Capilouto made new housing one of his top priorities after arriving on campus in 2011, and he eventually hopes to have 9,000 new or renovated beds on campus at a cost of nearly $500 million. Studies have consistently shown that students involved in campus life have better retention and graduation rates.

"This housing revitalization continues to fulfill the vision and direction we set out more than two years ago with President Capilouto," said Britt Brockman, chairman of the Board of Trustees. "We want to be — and will be — one of the thriving, public residential campuses in America that is helping produce tomorrow's leaders for our state and our world."

Capilouto said the new residence halls also will help tighten the link between UK's north campus and downtown Lexington.

"Together, we are a university city that grows best when we grow together — something we have committed to now and for the future," he said.

This latest phase of the project will cost $84 million and create two large dorms — Limestone Park I and II — that will house 1,141 students. About 830 students now live in dorms near the intersection of Avenue of Champions and Limestone. Most of those buildings will be demolished.

UK has already opened two new dorms across from W.T. Young Library, called Central I and II, which house 601 students. This fall, they'll open five more on north and south campus with a total of 2,381 new beds. Three more dorms on the old Cooperstown complex are under construction and will open in 2015 for 1,610 students.

Limestone Park I and II will open in 2016, featuring a variety of housing options, including singles, doubles or suites, with private bedrooms and multiple baths. Most of the units, about 722, will have two private bedrooms and one bath for a cost of $4,142 per person per semester. An additional 372 units will feature four private bedrooms, two baths and a kitchenette for $4,473. The most expensive unit features one bedroom, one bath and a kitchenette for $4,723 per semester.

Those prices will match UK's current "premium" rates, while older dorm rates are much cheaper.

The dorms will have one classroom and 25 wired study rooms between them.

The buildings will house what UK calls living-learning communities, in which people interested in the same things live and study together. Currently, UK has living-learning communities for honor students, engineering and fine arts, among others.

As with UK's other contracts with EdR, the school receives 8.1 percent of total income, plus 25 percent of net income in each year in which EdR gets an overall 9 percent internal rate of return. EdR provides all the maintenance and upkeep, but UK Residence Life provides hall directors and resident advisers.

The EdR contract does not include dining facilities, which is why UK is currently considering handing its dining services over to a private corporation that could also afford to build new eating spaces.

UK officials have said there was huge demand for new dorms that opened on South Campus this year, and they expect the same when four more residence halls open next fall.

But some students worry about high prices.

UK freshman Laken Wadsworth said she loves the idea of living-learning communities in new dorms. But she said she's still probably going to live off campus next year because it's cheaper.

"I'm sure they're really nice," she said of the new dorms, "but it's so expensive for such a small space."

Linda Blackford: (859) 231-1359Twitter:@lbblackford

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