Transylvania University to tear down two dorms

bmusgrave@herald-leader.comFebruary 14, 2014 

Transylvania University plans to replace two aging dorms with two new ones and possibly build a third as part of an effort to modernize its residential halls and attract more students to the liberal arts college in downtown Lexington.

The university applied to the city Board of Adjustment late last month to tear down two halls on campus — Clay, a freshmen dorm, and Davis, an upperclassman dorm. The application also asks for permission to build a dorm close to Clay and Davis dorms off North Broadway. University officials said this week that the prospective third dorm is years away.

Clay and Davis are connected through a joint lobby. Both were built in 1964. They aren't historic but they are outdated, university officials said this week.

"To be honest, they're basically barracks," said Marc Mathews, vice president of finance and business at Transylvania University. "They are not a 21st-century dormitory."

The dorms house 150 men each and have communal showers on each floor. That's not what many students now expect in student housing, Mathews said.

"I don't think anyone has not come here because of the dorms, but I don't think anyone has come here because of the dorms either," Mathews said.

Plans for the new residence halls include suites, with two rooms sharing one bathroom. That's the trend in student housing and is similar to most of the on-campus housing on Transy's campus.

As a liberal arts school, Transylvania strives to keep its students on campus. About 76 percent live in residence halls. Transy plans to increase that portion to 80 percent.

"Much of our programming — academic and co-curricular activities — extends to the residence halls in the evening hours," Mathews said. "You feel like you're missing out if you live too far away."

If the application for a special use is approved by the Board of Adjustment at a Feb. 28 meeting, an internal campus committee must approve the plans, then the issue must go to the Transylvania Board of Trustees. Mathews said that if the plan gets the board's blessing in May, construction could begin as early as this summer. That means that the first residential hall could be open by fall 2015. But that's the most optimistic timetable, Mathews said.

"If you are not going to make that date to be open by fall of 2015, you might as well wait one more year," he said.

Plans call for construction of a new freshmen dorm in a parking lot next to the current Clay/Davis dorm complex. The upperclassman dorm would be built. The existing Clay and Davis halls would be demolished.

Once started, it would take about two years for both dorms to be completed, Mathews said.

The designs aren't completed yet, but Mathews said the dorms will be roughly the same footprint and height as the current dorms, which are four stories each. Parking won't be affected by the construction, Mathews said.

"We have 1,100 spaces, which is one parking space for every student," he said. That's more than what zoning laws require.

The costs of each dorm is roughly $5 to $7 million each, Mathews said. The university is likely to ask the city to issue bonds. The university would be responsible for paying off the debt.

The plan to tear down the dorms is part of the university's strategic plan, referred to as its 2020 plan. Part of the plan calls for refreshing many of the campus' buildings. That effort started with its athletic fields and is now moving to its residence halls. The academic buildings will soon follow, Mathews said.

The 2020 plan also calls for a gradual increase in Transy's student population. It currently has 1,100 students. The plan calls for 1,500 by 2020. Increasing the number of students means more housing, Mathews said. That's why the university included a third dorm in its application to the Board of Adjustment. That dorm would be in the same area as Clay/Davis.

"When we looked at the top 50 liberal arts colleges in the country, 1,500 was the minimum number of students," Mathews said. By increasing the number of students, the college can afford to pay more faculty and have more specialty degrees.

The last dorm to be built on Transylvania's campus was Thompson Hall, in 2008.

Beth Musgrave: (859) 231-3205. Twitter: @HLCityhall.

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