Our Views: UW-Rock dorm would benefit entire community
A $6 million dorm to house 100 students could be a great asset not only to the two-year university but the Janesville School District and the community.
County supervisors raised concerns Nov. 21 when university officials asked the county to donate four acres. Why place the building so close to Garden Drive homes? Why is the project on a fast track? If a foundation must raise money to build the dorm, why had it not yet formed?
All were good questions. Project supporters had good answers.
Planners considered other sites south of the campus complex. Extending utilities and streets made some cost-prohibitive. Planners rejected others because they are being used or earmarked for other expansion possibilities. Soil borings ruled out still another. By the time soil tests came back and the focus shifted to the site near Garden Drive, planners were bumping up against the regents meeting.
Organizers hope to open the dorms for the fall 2014 semester. The building might lure more students if it opens before a school year rather than between semesters.
Dean Carmen Wilson reasoned it made no sense to form the foundation if organizers couldn't secure the land.
The project would make UW-Rock more attractive and help keep it viable as numbers of high school graduates decline. Tuition is critical to university finances. The dorm could entice students who have long commutes. It also could pull in foreign students much like other two-year UW campuses have done. About 7 percent of UW-Richland County students, for example, are foreign, and that rural campus has repeatedly expanded housing since opening its first dorm. Having more foreign students here could add cultural diversity and enrich educational experiences for all.
The project will create construction jobs, and a strong UW-Rock will keep funneling well-educated professionals to local employers.
Having students living at UW-Rock could make it more dynamic and make them more engaged in campus and community activities. The dorm likely would raise graduation rates. Having students living and shopping here could boost local business, particularly on the south side. Wilson says studies of other campuses show a $20,000 annual economic impact from each foreign student.
Coaxing foreigners also could benefit the Janesville School District and its enrollment because young students could earn high school and college credits simultaneously.
It's no surprise that neighbors object to a building blocking the view behind their homes. More than 30 signed a petition presented to the county. It shouldn't surprise them, however, that the university wants to develop the land. One resident admitted she and her husband knew buildings would rise on that tract when they moved in 18 years ago.
Still, she and others were understandably alarmed about plans putting the dorm so close to lot lines. It probably didn't endear planners to neighbors when one organizer likened critics to a perpetually unhappy TV character. Already, however, organizers have revised plans to move the dorm farther away and build it perpendicular rather than parallel to homes. Planners also added more parking to ease congestion on Garden Drive. Even if regents OK the dorm, the plans must return to the county and city for approval.
Wilson hit a respectful note:
“We're very eager to work with the community to make sure this project is acceptable to everybody, and we want to be responsible to the neighbors' concerns,” she told us. “We're very grateful to the county board for its support, and we're looking forward to coming back with revised plans that better meet the community's needs.”
All of Janesville and Rock County needs this project to move forward.