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Delay of UMM's 'green dorm' a good thing

By Britney Appier

Sun Tribune

In early May, the Green Prairie Living and Learning Community "green dorm" project at the University of Minnesota, Morris was delayed by central University of Minnesota officials and the UMM administration.

The dorm planning has been slowed down to make sure that the building is developed to fit its true purpose as a sustainable and environmentally friendly residential community and summer conference atmosphere, officials said.

Construction on the Green Prairie project is planned to begin in January 2009 and be ready for occupants for the 2010-2011 school year.

With no new residence hall since the 1970s, where dormitories at the time were built to "look like skyscrapers" similar to that of Gay or Independence Hall, a new dorm was needed, according to UMM Chancellor Jacqueline Johnson, because "students change."

UMM originally planned to have the Green Prairie Community open for the 2009-2010 academic year; however, in order to complete the project by that time, the planning for the project would have been hastened.

According to Sandy Olson-Loy, Vice-Chancellor for Student Affairs, everything before was "fast planning, but now we have extra time to do it right."

The main issues that arose were high cost estimates, the preparation for the bonding proposal, and the lack of summer programs.

The estimates that were received for the completion of the Green Prairie Community were higher than expected, according to Olson-Loy. The estimates, done by companies in more urban environments, were probably higher than what the actual price would be in a rural area. The delay will help the administrators find more realistic estimates, she said.

Along with finding less expensive estimates, the administration's original goal was to have a living community that could also function as a summer conference area. There are not many places in the area where a company, for example, can have a conference. Opening the dormitory to include conference facilities not only allows those from the community to be closer to the campus, but it finds a use for the building during the summer so the university could make money from the dorm while not occupied by students, Olson-Loy said.

With the funding of the project an issue, the university is looking for help not only from atypical usage of the dormitories but also from bonds from the central university system. Olson-Loy stated that the university bonds internally and that UMM would "pay back over time through revenues generated."

According to Johnson, in order to receive these limited bonds, the university must present the proposal before the Board of Regents, and "no one wants to be unprepared for that."

The delay then helps the university have more time to prepare for the bonding proposal, she said.

Despite the benefits that come from the delay, after the decision was made many people who had been a part of the project "were disappointed that the Green Prairie Community would not be erected (for the 2009- 2010 school year)," Johnson said. Though the delay allows for more time to prepare for the dorm, the administration was not happy to slow down the process, but it was necessary in order to make sure "things were done right" Olson- Loy said.

The administration also feels that the effects from the delay will not hurt the campus in either admission, student life, or residential life.

James Morales, Vice- Chancellor of Admissions and Financial Aid, said that the prospective students are being told that the building was delayed so the aspiration of the Green Prairie Community becomes a reality.

"The prospective students do not see this as a negative thing, and value that the school is attempting to make things right," Morales said.

Olson-Loy realized "as we did more research that when you're doing green construction, the place that they recommend you spend a little extra time is in the planning and design phases."

This is something that, with the original construction date planned, was nearly impossible. Now, however, the administration has the ability to take their time on the project, and do it with care so as to make it fit into Morris' "green niche," Johnson said.

Blakely, one of the two upper classmen dorms, is being converted into office space to make room for campus services that are being displaced by the construction of the Gateway Center. As such, there is concern that students will be encouraged to move off campus due to a lack of rooms. Henry Fulda, Assistant Vice- Chancellor for Student Life, stated that "thus far there has been no drop in the number of people who have decided to live on campus."

The one situation that will be changed, Fulda believes, is that the availability of "super single rooms" -- double rooms with one person living in them -- will be limited.

"However the numbers (of students living in the residence halls) haven't changed; people are either doubling up or living in the on campus apartments," Fulda said.

Residential Life "should be able to house all students wanting to live in the residence halls," he said.

The prospect of Residential Life creating a "green-themed" floor for 2009-2010, Fulda said, would be a "great idea."

Since the delay, the administration has been seeking grant funds to find the "best, most efficient, and most economically friendly way" Johnson said.