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ASU has decided not to reopen Winkler Residence Hall on the west side of campus, and the structure could be demolished. Photo by Anna Oakes



Originally published: 2013-06-29 17:03:18
Last modified: 2013-07-01 11:15:29

ASU backs off goal to add housing

by Anna Oakes

Local housing market trends could lead Appalachian State University to back off its goal to house 40 percent of undergraduates on campus, university officials said Friday.

University Housing staff said they have observed a leveling of demand for upperclassmen to live on campus, pointing to a surplus of student housing cited in the town of Boone's recent housing analysis.

"Prices are not increasing as much as they were (off campus)," said Matt Dull, assistant vice chancellor for finance and operations in the ASU Division of Student Development, at the ASU board of trustees meeting Friday. "We have been accommodating all returning students who wanted to live on campus."

ASU's 2008-2013 Strategic Plan aimed to increase housing so that 40 percent of undergraduates could live on campus. ASU has seen a net increase of 605 on-campus beds since 2008 for a current total of 5,684, which represents 38 percent of undergraduates.

"Forty percent may not be realistic for the university," Dull said. "Quite a bit of development has occurred in Boone since we developed the strategic plan in 2008."

The Boone Town Council in 2012 commissioned a housing analysis from New Hampshire-based consultant RKG May, said a conservative estimate of the Boone area's current surplus of units available to students ranges from 1,200 to 2,500.

Dull pointed to previously unseen features such as flexible lease terms, waived application fees and deposits and amenities such as recreation facilities as examples of the growing competition in the market.

"They're throwing in everything to get students to move to their complex," he said. "It's going to create more competition between on-campus and off-campus housing. That's a reality for us."

Dull said the university aims to maintain a 99 percent occupancy rate in on-campus units, and that this year, for the first time in many years, ASU was able to offer on-campus housing to everyone who applied for it -- including 300 transfer students.
 
He said building additional units that may not be filled in the future is not the best use of student fees.

"We really want to look at a reduced focus on this 40 percent goal," he said. "We're going to focus on completing the renovation of our current space."

The new outlook on on-campus housing could have influenced ASU's decision not to reopen one of its existing dorms.

ASU has spent the past several years renovating its residence halls, and the next scheduled renovation was to be Winkler Hall, located on the west side of campus. But construction bids came in $5 million higher than the university's budget for the project.

"Because those bids were so high, we've opted not to reopen Winkler Hall," Greg Lovins, ASU vice chancellor for business affairs, told the trustees.

Winkler's apartment-style suites would have been converted to traditional dorm rooms, doubling the number of beds available. Lovins said staff have looked at converting the structure to office space, but that would also be costly.

"We're probably looking at a future demolition," he said.