UW-Whitewater dorm plan put on hold

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Kevin Murphy/Special to the Gazette
Tuesday, August 12, 2014

MADISON–A stalled UW-Whitewater residence hall project has state legislators fuming and is causing concern for a university administrator about the school's ability to increase enrollment.

Last week, the State Building Commission learned that plans to construct a 400-bed dormitory at UW-Whitewater and 350-bed dorm at UW-Eau Claire have been shelved indefinitely by the state Department of Administration.

Although both dorms were included in the 2013-15 biennial budget and received approvals from the building commission and Gov. Scott Walker, the DOA held up the projects after the Joint Finance Committee subsequently cut $250 million from the capital budget, according to the DOA.

Construction of the $28 million UW-Whitewater residence hall was to begin in May 2015 and be completed by September 2016, said UW-Whitewater Vice Chancellor Jeff Arnold.

UW-Whitewater students have been “doubling and tripling up in dormitory lounges, rooms obviously not designed for sleeping," Arnold said.

“I haven't received an explanation why the project was halted,” Arnold said Tuesday. “There's been no indication of when it will go forward.”

Residence halls are funded by student fees, but the state has the borrowing authority for the construction loans repaid over time from revenue generated by dorm fees, said Arnold.

UW-Whitewater has the cash to hire the architect and had scheduled interviews. Those were cancelled by the UW System, which coordinates building projects with the DOA, Arnold said.

Stephanie Marquis, communications director for the Wisconsin Department of Administration, issued the following statement Tuesday: “The projects are enumerated and appropriated in the capital budget, and only an act by the full Legislature could remove them.  We are managing the cash flow based upon the cuts the Legislature made to the state building program.”

The delayed dorm opening impacts the UW-Whitewater's ability to grow its enrollment, said Arnold.

“We need space to put freshmen and sophomore students, and we're at capacity,” he said.

UW policy requires underclassmen to live on campus, although some sophomores can be exempt, he said.

The university has embarked on a multi-year program of renovating its 1960s era dormitories taking one out of service annually on average. That also puts pressure on remaining campus housing, he said.

While Arnold deals with stalled construction plans, State Rep. Andy Jorgensen, D-Milton, who represents the Whitewater area, wants answers from the DOA on why the project was stopped and when it will be restarted.

“I am requesting a full explanation of your decision to delay funds for the UW-Whitewater residence hall project. How was this project selected as one to delay? Who made that decision? Where any university officials consulted … Most critically, when will funds be released so the project may get underway?” Jorgensen wrote Tuesday in a letter to DOA Secretary Mike Huebsch.

In a phone interview, Jorgensen said the residence hall is important to UW-Whitewater's ability to attract and house students, and it was shortsighted of DOA to freeze a self-funded project that serves a need.

Education is important to the area and state's economy … I want to see these projects get restarted,” he said.

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