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Bonanza on Campus

September 01, 2005 |

The nation's colleges and universities are building at such a pace, and to such a level of luxuriance, as to defy augury.

This year, American academic institutions will complete $14 billion of construction and break ground on another $14.5 billion of work. Elaborate campus centers, plush housing complexes, and "extreme" recreation facilities are just a few of the more lavish building types sprouting up on campuses at the nation's 1,538 nonprofit, 631 public, and 297 for-profit four-year schools:

  • At the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill, the $72 million Rams Head Center sports a sports bar with 40 video games, including a helicopter simulator.

  • Next year, Ohio University will open a $60 million, 200,000-sf student union on its Athens campus, complete with five-story atrium, three-story entry rotunda, and 250-seat theater.

  • Not to be outdone by its in-state neighbor, Ohio State University will start construction in 2007 on a $100 million student center with a 1,200-seat amphitheater and an 1,800-seat ballroom. That's in addition to a $140 million recreation and physical activity center, to be completed next year. Already up and running: the Buckeyes' Adventure Recreation Center, with 4,000 sf of rock-climbing surface and bouldering cave.

  • Then there's the $50.8 million rehab job at the University of Cincinnati's 70-year-old student center, followed in 2007 by a new $102.5 million rec center; the $70 million union at the University of Vermont; the University of Arizona's 440,000-sf, $60 million center; and Boston University's fitness/recreation center, replete with 25-person hot tub, wave pool, lazy river, and juice bar.

Many junior colleges are building facilities that rival those at the nation’s four-year schools. Case in point is the 20,000-sf addition to the student services and administration building at East Los Angeles College, which will feature a contemporary façade, complete with a glimmering clock tower. Designed by local architect WWCOT, the addition will consolidate all campus student service functions, from enrollment to financial aid to testing. Rendering: WWCOT

The construction binge also extends to student housing—and bite your tongue if you dare say "dormitory"! While government figures put the average cost for a room at a private four-year college at $3,571 in 2001, a private studio apartment at University Center of Chicago (co-developed by Columbia College and DePaul and Roosevelt Universities) ran $10,526 last year.

At the 300-unit, $36.3 million University Village in Dover, Del., (developed by Atlanta-based Ambling University Development Group), Delaware State University students can rent a 1,241-sf apartment with full-sized beds, full kitchen (with microwave and dishwasher), high-speed DSU-linked Internet access and private phone service, and cable TV.

Four-year schools are not the only institutions of higher learning experiencing a construction gusher. The nation's 1,081 public, 127 private, and 494 for-profit two-year schools are busy adding not just classrooms, but even whole new campuses.

As we report in this issue, America's so-called "junior" colleges are shedding their second-class image by building facilities that rival those at the nation's four-year schools. In an effort to reinforce their sense of "community," many two-year institutions are busy building multi-use facilities that help cement town/gown relationships.

Finally, the sustainability movement has taken firm hold on America's campuses, nowhere more firmly than in the University of California system, whose new Merced complex will be the first entirely LEED Silver campus in the country.

Why all this building activity? Supply and demand, of course. The supply of "Echo Boomers" going to college hit a record 16.6 million last year, thus creating demand to feed, house, recreate, and, oh yes, educate them.

So, enjoy the gold rush while it lasts.

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