The Department of Housing and Residential Life has been making extensive improvements and renovations over the past 15 years to residence halls at the University of Rhode Island. The department hopes that with these changes, housing options on campus will become more popular and sought after, especially for upperclassmen.
John Sears, director of Housing and Residential Life and assistant vice president of Student Affairs, explained that these renovations started when the aggressive asset protection program was instated. “Back in the early 2000s, the university sought and received a general obligation bond that was really the catalyst to start renovating the buildings… that were somewhat dated and in rough shape,” he said.
Sears came to URI in 2013, when he said much of what was discussed was improving the residence halls, particularly the Roger Williams Complex.
“When I first got here, the question was how, not whether, but how we were going to tear down the Roger Williams Complex and build replacement buildings,” Sears said.
Replacing the Roger Williams Complex would cost well over $100 million, but instead the university was able to keep the buildings intact and work on renovating each building at a fraction of the replacement cost. They renovated the bathrooms, added new doors and locks, repainted, cleaned and retrofitted the heating systems, gave window treatments, new flooring and new furniture. In the end, there was somewhere between $15-17 million dollars put into the Roger Williams Complex, according to Sears.
“Just those improvements alone have added on another 20 years to [the Roger Williams Complex],” Sears said. He added that more students are happy with their accommodations in the Complex, something that was not the case five years ago.
Most recently this summer they have worked on improving and upgrading the Fayerweather and Gorham residence halls, according to Sears. They painted, redid the treatments for the radiators and added in-room thermostats. They also worked on the Barlow and Weldin residence halls, where they repainted and added new furniture. The work on these four dorms totaled approximately $7 million.
“We’re always looking to make sure we’re meeting the students’ needs and how they’re living on campus,” Sears said.
Many renovations and ideas by HRL have been created through polling and surveying students living on campus, Sears said. The university wanted to alter the dorms to allow for more students’ success, ability to make connections and expanding the space without eliminating any occupancy.
“We found that aggressively putting money back into the residence halls to keep the quality of the facilities up both adds to the students’ experience and it also is attractive for prospective students when they’re looking at the University of Rhode Island,” Sears said.
With this aggressive asset protection program, HRL is hoping to continue keeping up with any renovations or improvements necessary to keep the buildings in top shape. Sears mentioned other institutions, like the University of Kentucky and University of Georgia, where the maintenance to residence halls was not kept up, which resulted in those operations moving to the private sector.
So far, HRL’s aggressive asset protection program seems to be working quite well, especially in the Roger Williams Complex. “In room selection last year, the first room to go was a single in the Roger Williams Complex, as opposed to Eddy or Wiley,” Sears said.
Like any upkeep project, though, Sears explained that they are not done yet. HRL has plans for the future, many of which include general upkeep of the aging buildings. Air conditioning in dorms, especially those used in the summer months, is being considered along with glassing in the balconies in the Roger Williams Complex and adding generators.
One of the biggest projects is the construction of Brookside Apartments, a new residence hall that will replace the Dairy Barn Lot. “We’re currently in the designing process of that,”Sears said. The hope is that this new residence hall will appeal to more seniors and juniors, hopefully keeping them from moving off campus. “I think this new building will give the beach a run for its money,” Sears added.
Another project that Sears and HRL have been working on is to promote more school pride within the residence halls. He is working extensively with the sign shop on campus to add more URI pride to the residence halls. So far, only the Eddy and Browning residence halls sport signs welcoming students and visitors.
”I want to make sure when you walk into a URI residence hall… you know you’re at the University of Rhode Island,” Sears said.