Need for dormitory space spurs talk of public-private project
By JOEL MILLS, Tribune
With 23 percent enrollment growth in the last four years at Lewis-Clark State College, President Dene Thomas says the Lewiston campus has simply run out of room.
So it’s time for a new residence hall on campus, she says.
“Nontraditional students have more of a presence,” Thomas says of LCSC’s reputation as a commuter campus. “But as we’ve been known as the No. 1 bachelor’s degree-offering public college in the West, more students want to come to a college that’s doing well.”
LCSC was awarded the rank by U.S. News and World Report magazine earlier this year. LCSC is listed in the third tier of schools in the West. That tier has seven public schools, and LCSC tied for first place.
Thomas says the proposal for a 100- to 120-bed hall was well-received by the State Board of Education at its December meeting. The board requested a needs analysis, which Thomas will present at the board’s January meeting in Boise. If approved, a request for proposals will go out.
The plan Thomas and financial Vice President Ron Smith have devised relies on a developer to finance and build the new hall and lease it to LCSC.
Several locations would be suitable for the new hall, Smith says, including a half-block of land recently purchased on the southeastern edge of campus at 11th Avenue and Seventh Street. LCSC purchased the property with $284,000 carried forward from previous years.
A parking lot and an old church used for music courses occupies the land now. Smith says the land was purchased with an eye toward expansion, but not specifically a residence hall.
Land just north of Talkington Hall is an option, as are other privately owned locations within a 10-minute walk of campus.
The Lewiston City Council could add dormitories to the list of uses allowed in medium- and high-density residential zones at its Monday meeting, removing the need for public hearings.
The city’s planning and zoning commission has recommended against that, however, because of concerns about changing the character of neighborhoods.
The commission also has recommended against a measure that would create a new public facilities zone, which could be applied anywhere in the city to ease expansion of schools, hospitals and other public entities.
Some commissioners said the zone would eliminate opportunities for public input.
If zoning hurdles are cleared and a developer is secured, the hall could start housing freshmen as soon as fall semester next year or 2006, Thomas says.
New living space is critical to LCSC’s continuing efforts to boost enrollment, especially among new high school graduates, Thomas says.
“Eighteen-year-old freshmen want to live in a residence hall. Their parents want them to live in a residence hall. This (housing shortage) makes it hard to recruit a freshman from, say, southwest Idaho.”
Smith says the waiting list for Clark Hall, a 78-bed dormitory building built in the 1960s, is about 70 people long. Talkington Hall, built in the 1930s, houses 92 students and upperclassmen-oriented Parrish House houses 29.
Those buildings are in need of renovation, Smith says. But that can’t be done until there is a new building to house the displaced students, he adds.
The need for more living space will become more pressing at the end of the academic year. LCSC students living in 48 rooms at the Red Lion Hotel have to move out because of remodeling planned there.
Thomas and Smith say they have been in contact with several developers who have expressed interest in a public-private partnership with LCSC.
One developer already is planning several off-campus apartments on his own, Thomas says.
Smith says once the new residence hall is completed, LCSC would like to enter into a 20- to 25-year lease with the developer, with an option to buy the hall at the end of that period.
He adds the public-private partnership approach was chosen because securing state financing, which was used along with private donations and student fees for the nearly complete LCSC Activity Center, would take too long.
Building costs continue to rise, adding to the urgency, he says.
Smith estimates the cost of a new hall at $3.5 million to $3.8 million. LCSC students pay $1,600 to $2,200 per year to live in the residence halls. Rates at the new hall would be closer to $3,000, Smith says.
Thomas says while the housing shortage is a problem, “it’s a wonderful problem to have.
“Think back a to a few years ago when we couldn’t even fill (the residence halls) up.”