UW-Whitewater dorm put on hold is back on track
WHITEWATER—The $28 million UW-Whitewater residence hall put on hold by the state Department of Administration is back on track, state Rep. Andy Jorgensen said.
Earlier this month, the state building commission learned the Department of Administration sidelined plans to construct a 400-bed dorm at UW-Whitewater and a 350-bed dorm at UW-Eau Claire.
On Wednesday, Jorgensen, D-Milton, and Department of Administration Secretary Mike Huebsch talked about the need for the UW-Whitewater project to be taken off the back burner.
In the conversation, Jorgensen learned Gov. Scott Walker told the Department of Administration to be “deliberate” with the $250 million approved by the building commission for building projects. The instructions lead to the belief that cutting the money for the dorms was a way to be fiscally responsible, Jorgensen said.
“The money was approved, that's the point,” Jorgensen said. “This is money that was supposed to be spent on this. But then this direction came down from Gov. Walker … 'I want you to be more deliberate with this project,' and I guess that got interpreted, I guess we can say, to stall things.”
After what Jorgensen called a “really good” conversation, Huebsch and Jorgensen came to an understanding that the UW-Whitewater dorm is “right at the top” of the list for Jorgensen. The Department of Administration will be moving the project forward.
Jorgensen did not know where the UW-Eau Claire project stood.
The Department of Administration will be soliciting architects in four to six weeks to complete design plans.
The building commission will need to sign off on the design to ensure it matches what the Legislature approved. The commission's next meeting most likely will be in December, Huebsch told Jorgensen.
The dorm will be located in what is now green space west of Fischer Hall and east of parking lots.
The Whitewater and Eau Claire dorms were in the 2013-15 biennial budget, which includes a maximum $1.1 billion for the state building program overseen by the building commission and approved by the Legislature and Walker.
The building commission approved $250 million in funding, and the Department of Administration has released $36 million, Jorgensen's office said.
Student fees fund residence halls, but the state can borrow for construction loans repaid from revenue generated by housing fees, said Frank Bartlett, UW-Whitewater residence life director.
Construction of the residence hall had been scheduled to begin in November 2014 and be completed sometime in 2017. If things go smoothly, the construction now could start in November 2015 and finish in 2018, Bartlett said.
Move-in week is this week, and about 150 students are being placed in lounges converted into living quarters in 12 of 13 dorms. Between two and five students are in the lounges, Bartlett said.
The school has off-campus apartments designed to relieve crowding, but it's not enough keep up with growing student numbers.
“We are really crowded at this point in time and are trying to do the best we can,” Bartlett said. “Realistically, we need to move forward … Time is money.”