As published in Toledo Business Journal - November 1, 2014
Rendering of the University of Toledo's Honors Academic Village
The University of Toledo (UT) is now constructing an Honors Academic Village dorm building, the third and final phase to an approach that would modernize all the university’s housing stock, according to Matt Schroeder, chief operating officer for the University of Toledo Foundation.
The new facility will be four stories, 142,352 square feet, and contain 492 beds. It is expected to be operational for the fall semester of 2015.
“It strengthens our housing portfolio and offers a unit mix that is really progressive in nature from a floor plan standpoint,” said Schroeder. “When you look at our overall housing stock as it sits here in fall semester of 2014, our housing stock is very attractive to freshmen and it has a level of attraction to sophomores and some juniors. What this new property or asset will allow us to do is that it has floor plans that are specific to freshmen direct from high school, but then also has floor plans that are not only attractive to sophomores but also juniors and seniors. So what it allows us to do through the 492 beds is give us an additional competitive advantage to trying to attract freshmen to campus and also retain those freshmen as they matriculate through their sophomore and junior year.”
Students are currently living in the first two completed phases of the project. Renovations to McKinnon Hall finished in 2013, followed by renovations to Scott and Tucker Halls in 2014.
Construction in progress at the University of Toledo's Honors Academic Village
“What we completed in 2013 was the neighboring building, McKinnon Hall, which is one of the original dorms to campus,” said Nick Hogrefe, project manager. “We went through and put some new paint and carpet and freshened the space up, put some new furniture in, and it kind of has the Harvard feel; the historic, original, integrity type buildings. We moved the Honors students into there and it was very well-received.”
“For 2014 what we did was we took the Scott and Tucker buildings, which I believe were the third and fourth buildings ever built on campus, and originally were dorms before we turned them into academic offices sometime between the early 1900s and now, and reverted them back to dorms and completely renovated the interiors,” he continued. “Again, this building has a lot of the original historic moldings and old fireplaces and such in the bedrooms. Now the fireplaces aren’t functional – the students can’t use them – but they give that Harvard model feel and give a little extra luxury to living on campus. It has brand new toilet rooms and new showers on each floor.”
Construction on the Honors Academic Village began in May. Plans to have the walls and roof in place before the first snowfall are currently ahead of schedule.
“Any time we do construction on this campus it’s important to us to utilize local, and the majority of the subcontractors on this project are all local,” said Schroeder. “From a job standpoint, we are employing northwest Ohio, and from a trade and a skills standpoint our labor force is second to none. Once again we’re glad to have a strong local presence on the campus doing a great job.”
Although the majority of people working on the Honors Academic Village are local, this project is being funded by the Collegiate Housing Foundation, which is based in Alabama.
“It’s not being funded by either UT or the Foundation,” said Schroeder. “This was a private / public partnership between the University of Toledo and the Collegiate Housing Foundation. Their sole purpose is to help universities expand or modernize their on-campus housing stock, so we reached out to them well over a year ago along with American Campus Communities and came up with the business model that is currently under construction to where UT leases the facility from the Collegiate Housing Foundation. They come in with their partner, American Campus Communities, who will work with them and develop the project, and then also manage the project.”
UT will not utilize student dollars to lease the land, which will become on-campus housing. “What it allows the University of Toledo to do is bring modern student housing to campus, which helps with our overall portfolio, and it also allows us, from a bonding capacity or ability to take on more debt,” said Schroeder. “It really takes that capacity on reserve so that if our CFO and our finance folks want to invest on the academic side or the healthcare side, they have the ability to do that because they did not make the direct investment in this additional housing.
“It’s becoming more common across the country, as funding from – in our case from Columbus – continues to be more difficult and more competitive for those capital dollars for building projects,” he continued. “We have to be very selective in terms of what we submit to Columbus. In this case housing, and housing in general, is becoming more and more of a decision point for undergraduate students considering institutions like the University of Toledo. At the same time we have a core academic mission that we have to continue to focus on.”
Although the new building will be heavily marketed toward honors students, it will be available for any student who registers for classes at UT if there is availability. Honors students are allowed to have their own rooms, as opposed to sharing a two or four bedroom dormitory with others. The new building will also contain a fitness area, collaborative study rooms, student lounges, and computers.
“In large part we really work to enhance the sense of community within the college,” said Lakeesha Ransom, dean of the Jesup Scott Honors College. “The Honors Academic Village is one example of that. We have students from across the University that major in Biology, Engineering, Education, and Psychology, yet when they are in their honors courses that are offered here in the college, it’s a unique opportunity to collaborate with other students. Even outside the courses it provides them a way to share ideas on similar challenges and societal issues from their unique lens, coming from their discipline.”
Incoming freshmen with at least a 3.5 GPA and an ACT score of 25 or higher are allowed to apply for the honors program, but students not meeting the requirements are allowed to reapply after their first semester at UT. In addition to getting their first pick of the new dorms, honors students receive a number of benefits as a part of the program.
“We have taken students to the Nobel Peace Prize forum for the past few years where they’ve had the opportunity to meet with Nobel Peace laureates and converse with them based upon what they’ve learned about their work,” said Ransom. “We have honors specific study and service trips to Guatemala, Haiti, Nicaragua, and to different parts of the world. So much of what we do is meant to enhance the community of scholars that we have and also to help prepare them for the graduate and professional world once they graduate.”
“When people look back on their college years, in large part they’re looking back on the relationships they built with their friends, or the people they had the opportunity to live and work and learn with,” she continued. “So this really helps us to create that sense of community, as well as academic discipline for our students.”