Wednesday, April 17, 2024

UNCW plans for dorms in the short-term with hotel, workforce housing in the future

Some of the traffic patterns and campus hotspots in a rendering used for the UNCW campus master plan process on Oct. 12, 2023. (UNCW/Hanbury)

WILMINGTON — The main need revealed as part of UNCW’s campus master plan this week was student housing, though the long-term vision for the university’s footprint could serve much more than just students. 

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Ahead of its regular meeting, the UNCW board of trustees held a work session Thursday for its campus master plan — separate from the university’s strategic plan approved this year.. The process will outline a 10-year conceptual layout for infrastructure and facility use at the university. 

Among the priorities for the next decade are the stewardship of the university’s natural, human and fiscal resources, ensuring effective integration of campus systems, and building on the university’s growth patterns. 

To accomplish that last goal, one thing became clear on Thursday: the university needs more housing.

UNCW enrolled its largest freshman class this fall with 2,370 incoming students, bringing the university total to 17,843 enrollees. Moving them in was a challenge.

In July, Executive Director of Housing and Residence Life Kevin Meaney told the trustees it had 245 more students than beds and would need to house them in common rooms, office space and rooms big enough to accommodate an extra body. 

Meaney updated the board at its Friday meeting, reporting only 141 students remained without a traditional living situation. He said most overflow rooms were down to just two students, down from three or four. 

Looking forward, Meaney noted continuing at the same growth rate would strain staff in housing and residence life. The majority of current freshman enrollees will remain on campus next year due to the university’s freshman and sophomore living requirement passed in 2021; a large number of transfer students desire a place on campus as well, according to Meaney. The university also provides upperclassmen housing options. 

“I’m not saying we’re going to need another residence hall at this point — we don’t know that,” Meaney said at the meeting. “If that ends up being a recommendation, we want to know that sooner rather than later because, as you know, building residence halls, adding housing is a years-long, multiple-years-long process.” 

The university completed four new residence halls with 1,810 beds in 2021, while also marking Galloway Hall, the university’s oldest and largest dorm, for demolition in 2022. 

In the meantime, Meaney said the university is exploring master lease agreements with nearby apartment complexes. He has also sped up the timeline on an update to the 2017 housing needs study, moving the deadline from summer to February 2024.  

During Thursday’s campus planning workshop, the trustees heard a presentation on space needs by the architecture firm Hanbury. At this point, the company is offering observations and ideas for improving the campus; no plan has been formally drafted or approved yet. 

Chief amongst Hanbury’s considerations was a need for more housing, though no suggestion for placement or size was put forward either from Hanbury’s representatives or the trustees.

Other areas of potential development include new and improved research labs, more student center space, more efficient usage of classrooms and two big-ticket items: a new sports arena and a hotel.

In his Friday presentation to the trustees, Chancellor Aswani Volety said Trask Coliseum, opened in 1977, was in need of some repairs and hinted at renovations for the arena or the potential for a brand new one. 

As for the hotel, Volety said the venture could be a learning experience for hospitality industry students while also welcoming the community onto the campus — a priority of the newly minted strategic plan. One of the locations noted was where the current track is at the end of Hurst Drive; another proposed location was on 11 UNCW-owned acres across S. College Road. 

Several trustees spoke in favor of a hotel conference center on campus. 

“From the College Road perspective, we certainly need to be more inviting,” trustee Hugh Caison said. “That is something we truly lack. I love the fact that possibly the front door concept, where it really speaks volumes to the university. Yeah, it is hotels and restaurants. All those things, I think are great ideas.” 

One of the trustees’ priorities is to make the campus’ entrance along S. College Road more inviting and accessible to the community. This could include traffic changes — an idea to add more lanes at the Randall Drive ingress was floated, along with opening up the closed entrance between Randall and Crews drives.

Imagining a more long-term — and more expensive — vision for the campus was Kevin Sills, who asked the board to imagine S. College and running right through the center of campus. Essentially, his thought was to expand campus to be on both sides of the road.

That would take the university acquiring more land on the other side of the highway, adding to its current 11 acres. Trustee Perry Chappell asked if there were plans to do so; Chair Carlton Fisher replied no.

Others want to see the 11 acres used for another purpose: affordable housing. 

During her presentation to the trustees Friday, Staff Senate Chair Susan Smith asked the board to consider housing geared toward the university’s employees. She added retail space could also be included, ultimately supporting staff members and hopefully boosting retention rates.

“If you build it, they will stay,” Smith said. 

The trustees noted this was a potential use for the acreage at Thursday’s workshop.

Academically, Hanbury showed the trustees there is already room for three more buildings, plus an addition to Cameron Hall, along Chancellor’s Walk, the main strip of academic structures at the campus core. 

Hanbury suggested these buildings have three floors, instead of the common two-floor model used among UNCW’s older buildings, to promote a denser campus. One of them could be the state-funded Health Education Building. The $8-million project was included in the General Assembly’s budget. 

Meanwhile, the $61.5-million Randall Library expansion is still underway, along with upgrades to King and Aldermen halls totaling $11.5 million and renovations to the Center for Marine Science at $9.9 million. 

Still to come are renovations and expansions to Cameron Hall ($44.5 million) and Kenan Auditorium ($24 million) and a Deloach Hall modernization project ($12.1 million). Designs for all three projects — all mostly funded with state appropriations — will begin in the 2024-2025 fiscal year.

The upgrades will optimize space and offer more student opportunities in a more dense environment. However, that density will eliminate the need for sprawl, and ultimately encroachment onto the campus’ natural areas. At Thursday’s workshop, Volety said there was a request to leave UNCW’s forest acreage untouched, and the chancellor said he agreed.

Volety was referencing a petition from UNCW geology and environmental science professor Roger Shew to preserve 100 acres of pine forest on the campus’ outer edge. The area is one of four remaining longleaf pine forests in New Hanover County. 

The campus master plan process will continue into April 2024, when a final draft will be approved by the trustees. The community can view planning documents and submit feedback here.


Reach journalist Brenna Flanagan at brenna@localdailymedia.com 

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