UO Hamilton-Walton Student Housing project featured in Register-Guard
By Jordyn Brown
April 27, 2019
The University of Oregon plans to demolish and rebuild two of its dorms starting this fall costing more than $200 million, making it the largest transformation to its on-campus housing ever. This comes just after a record-breaking number of prospective students attending a campus tour day this month.
Sometime between October and December, UO will kick off the plan to replace Hamilton and Walton residence halls on the west side of campus near Hayward Field, increasing costs and upgrading amenities for students when the buildings become open by early 2023.
The UO has 10 dorm buildings on campus. Over the last decade, the university has been adding new buildings like Global Scholars Hall in 2012 and Kalapuya Ilihi in 2017 and renovating its older dorms like Bean Hall, which is set to finish in the fall. The rebuilds of Hamilton and Walton halls are the latest to see an upgrade.
UO started requiring first-year students to live on campus in 2017, and in 2018 there were more than 4,000 entering freshmen.
The housing rebuilds will go in phases so students can continue to use them. First, the new Hamilton Hall will be built starting this fall in an area of green space on the corner of Agate and East 15th Avenue — an area also known to students as the “Humpy Lumpy Lawn.” Once new Hamilton Hall is finished, the current Walton Hall will be demolished and rebuilt in its current spot. Finally, the current Hamilton Hall will be demolished and cleared for open green space.
Roger Thompson manages student services and enrollment for the UO. In his mind, Hamilton and Walton resident halls are comparable to DC-9 planes in the 1960s when they were known as the “workhorses” of the airline industry.
“They’ve housed tons of students, lots of students since they were built ... but like anything, they’re starting to show their age. Fourteen-hundred students have lived in those two buildings,” he said. “But like many things, they’ve probably run their course in terms of effectiveness and efficiency.”
INCREASED COST AND AMENITIES
While the dorms will include bigger rooms, expanded dining options and new technology, the price of living in them will be costly.
Thompson said this project will close the gap in amenities offered in dorms like Walton and Hamilton — which were built in the late ’50s and early ’60s — and newer dorms like Global Scholars Hall and Kalapuya Ilihi. But starting next year, all dorms will cost more than $10,000 a year, according to UO spokeswoman Molly Blancett.
The cost to live in one of the 10 dorms this year ranges from $9,007 to $19,281, depending on room type. The most affordable option is a triple room in Carson or Walton halls and the most expensive is a large single room with a bathroom in Barnhart Hall. Standard double rooms — the most common — in Hamilton and Walton currently cost $9,995 a year.
“We have held that rate with no increase for two years, but next year, we do have an increase,” she said.
All of the housing costs include a meal plan for students, which also varies in price depending on the size of the meal plan — Carson unlimited, mini, select, standard or deluxe. All of the UO’s room estimates online are calculated with the Carson unlimited meal plan, which gives access to Carson Dining Hall’s buffet any time.
These listed room rates are expected to increase by 3% to 5% for 2019-2020.
Thompson said the UO ensured there would be an additional 400 beds in the rebuild of the dorms with the understanding costs still will increase, but the extra distribution of that will help keep costs low for students.
“By expanding the beds to 1,800 from the 1,400 that are currently there, whatever our pricing will be it won’t be as much as if we just replaced it with the same 1,400 beds — and the facilities are gonna be a lot nicer,” Thompson said.
The project will cost the UO about $210 million in revenue bonds, which will be paid off by the students living in the halls similar to how someone would rent to buy a home. Those bonds will be paid off after 30 years, Thompson said.
“The university’s never invested this kind of money in our residential facilities,” he said. “Yes, it’s the biggest housing project we’ve ever done, but it’s important to note: Those two buildings are costing us a lot in maintenance.”
The cost to operate the two dorms, which includes general upkeep maintenance, repairs and utilities for 2018, was about $1.55 million for Hamilton and $1.32 million for Walton, according to Blancett.
“It is anticipated that the costs on the new buildings will be significantly less,” she said, by about 40% to 55%. The UO is making its buildings more energy efficient in renovations through utilities like heating and lighting.
But the bond money won’t just go toward bigger rooms. Hamilton’s dining area will be expanded significantly, with more room for favorite restaurants like Big Mouth Burrito and for new dining options.
“We’re going to put in sort of a sit-down dining sports venue,” Thompson said. “So when Ducks are playing on the road, students can go in there and watch the Duck game.” Picture a dining area surrounded by televisions, with a sports bar feel.
Hamilton also will have a recruitment center to draw in prospective students that would feature replica dorm rooms built to scale, so students can see the rooms without touring students’ current living spaces.
This will help on days like April 19, which brought about 1,800 people (students and parents) to campus for the biggest Duck Days event the UO has seen. Prospective students toured campus and visited dorms like Walton, Living Learning Center, Kalapuya Ilihi, and Bean, said Anna Schmidt-MacKenzie, director of UO’s residence life.
NEW COMMUNITY BUILDING
Bean Hall was of interest to show students this year, as one of its two wings was just remodeled and opened for student use this year.
Where Bean was once a hall known for its dark brick walls, tiny rooms and unwelcome shared space, the UO has tried to transform the living experience by painting the walls white, redesigning the shared space and building a kitchen space for students who enjoy cooking.
Before the remodel, Bean West and Bean East were separated. Bean West is open for use this year while Bean East continues to be remodeled, but when it’s finished next year the students who live in either wing will have access to the other.
“It really was a fragmented community (before),” Schmidt-MacKenzie said.
The dorms also now have gender-inclusive bathrooms that each have their own shower. UO has done away with floors separated and sorted by gender, and consequently they got rid of the open showers separated on each side by curtains that were seen in the older dorms.
“It really supports our mission to support people of any gender identity,” Schmidt-MacKenzie said.
Bean was long known to UO’s students as one of the dorms with the fewest amenities. But among those who lived in the hall, Bean was a shared and memorable experience of living in the smallest rooms and the dark corridors. They could commiserate with each other, and so they built a community year after year that students in other dorms would envy.
“When people came out of living here with that community, they didn’t always come into it with that same sentiment when they got their room assignment,” Schmidt-MacKenzie said.
So when the UO launched Bean’s remodel, there were many former residents who were nostalgic and mourned the loss of their old hall as they knew it.
Ariana Gaspar lived in Bean as a resident assistant. She saw this sentiment firsthand when showing some alumni around the new hall.
“There was an alumni reunion and there were three couples visiting from Seattle,” she said. “You could see it’s just a shock and a little bit of tears coming.”
Thompson recognizes the nostalgia among former residents when change comes to the halls, but he and those in Residence Life are ensuring the new halls include other community-building aspects by placing students in certain dorms based on an academic focus or social community. These are called Academic Residential Communities, or ARCs.
For example, Global Scholars Hall hosts students in the Clark Honors College and the “global engagement” community, which includes international students. But some are also identity based: Carson Hall houses the LGBTQIA+ community, and next year the UO will add a Latinx ARC.
The UO also is trying to draw a different demographic by earmarking the additional 400 beds to be built for returning students by designing them like studios or four-bedroom apartments for those who want access to campus but not in a typical dorm.
“One of the things that research has told us for decades is when you live on campus you’re going to transition better, make better grades, create a social group a bit better, graduate sooner,” Thompson said. “When these buildings get done, they’re just buildings — facilities. Facilities come to life when you put people in there.”