Letter to the Editor: On-Campus Housing is Purpose-built

In the Jan. 27 issue of The Mercury, Ellis Blake Hidalgo wrote an article about apartment construction at Northside, the goal of which is to provide more housing near campus. Brent Miller from real estate developer Wynne/Jackson was interviewed for the article. Miller stated that there was “no purpose-built student housing at UT Dallas prior to Northside.” Miller also noted “The university had residence halls and there’s some older housing … but nothing recent, nothing you think of as purpose-built student housing.” I’d like to provide some history about the growth of University Housing at UT Dallas, which was most definitely, “purpose-built.”

Between 1989 and 2003, garden-style apartments were constructed for our large graduate student population, and, over time, our increasing undergraduate and first-time freshman population. The units were unfurnished and were built in a style that closely aligned with what the privatized sector provided for apartment units in the area at the time.

As the university’s student population grew, we saw the need to provide personalized living options for our freshmen, and in 2007, we hired an outside company to evaluate those needs. They led focus groups, conducted surveys and met with students about the variety of housing that might be constructed. As expected, students wanted affordable accommodations with private bedrooms (all freshman lived in private rooms in 4-bedroom units prior to 2009). Students expressed a desire for places they could study, hang out and interact, including with faculty.

The resulting residence halls were designed with privacy, community growth, interaction and student support in mind. We intentionally created floors and hallways with one peer advisor for every 24 students (the typical ratio is 50:1). We included study rooms, lounges and classrooms.  We selected our furniture in the 3-bedroom units for flexibility, allowing students to loft beds and move fixtures around to meet their personal preferences. We created a bathroom area that included a private toilet, private shower and three sinks and drawers, one for each resident. We also included a small living area with space for a mini-fridge and microwave.

After the fifth residence hall was completed, we continued to see waiting lists for upper class and graduate students. We again met with student groups and our existing resident population, who expressed the need for more one- and two-bedroom units, fully furnished with kitchens. Thus, we began design of our two newest student housing options at Canyon Creek Heights. These facilities added 800 beds that are nothing like previous housing on campus. They also include several lower-cost shared-bedroom options. 

Each of the five residence halls (with 2,200 beds) constructed on campus from 2009 to 2014, and the two Canyon Creek Heights facilities that opened in 2017 (with 800 beds), were purpose-built to meet the needs of our on-campus student population. We recognize the wishes of students may change over time, and we continuously evaluate how we can meet those wishes. We also continue to invest in our housing to improve the quality and longevity of all facilities. In leading our program’s growth and development over the past 14 years, I’m very proud of our thoughtfulness in providing purpose-built student housing on the UTD campus.

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