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Business Officer Magazine

Vantage Point

Spotlight on an institution in one of the constituent groups: small institutions, community colleges, comprehensive/doctoral institutions, or research universities

By Robert G. Cramer

Collaboration Keeps Students on Campus

The fastest-growing institution in the University of Wisconsin System, UW–Platteville increased its undergraduate enrollment by 34 percent (1,850 students) between 2001 and 2010. During this period, the university constructed only one suite-style residence hall for 380 students, increasing on-campus housing to about 2,700 beds, disappointing many students who desired to live on campus.

When he arrived at UW–Platteville in July 2010, Chancellor Dennis J. Shields quickly identified student housing as a top priority. "The impact of scant student housing on both the campus and community was evident," recalls Shields. "And, we realized that developing a new residence facility would create not only additional student housing, but also enhance our ability to fully engage students in academic and cocurricular activities. Data indicate that these factors lead to increased retention, higher academic achievement, and better graduation rates."

Goals Gather Support

The challenge at hand was how to construct a residence facility more quickly than usual, with limited resources.

The university identified several key goals to guide housing decisions:

  • Affordability for students and the university.
  • A self-financing model.
  • Sufficient quality, within the institution's budget.
  • Movement toward providing housing for 50 percent of students.
  • Progress during 2011 on student housing in parallel with updating the university's facilities master plan.

Shields approached the UW System, state officials, and the University of Wisconsin-Platteville Foundation to discuss the housing challenges. The university and the foundation agreed to partner in addressing the need by establishing a Real Estate Foundation (REF), wholly owned by the university's foundation. 

Established in November 2010, the REF worked with university leaders to quickly develop and issue a request for qualifications to select a student housing development partner. A key requirement was that the partner finance housing development throughout construction, with the REF taking ownership after completion.

Projects in Sequence

The REF selected C.D. Smith, a Wisconsin developer and general contractor, in early 2011; work began immediately to design and construct a first student housing project to open in August 2012. Planned for 620 beds, Rountree Commons would be built on private land adjacent to the campus, owned and operated by the REF.

The city's redevelopment authority and the REF partnered to finance the project upon completion, using fixed-rate redevelopment bonds, structured so that the financial riskof the project is shouldered bythe REF and not city taxpayers. The issue sold in October 2012 with strong demand for the 98 percent–occupied facility.

Based on the master plan, the development of a second housing project with student dining services began in late 2011. Because the project was located on the campus's public lands, it was developed via a lease with option to purchase. Completed in August 2013, Bridgeway Commons, with 440 beds, is leased and operated by the university through the state of Wisconsin. The REF owns the facility, using financing from a consortium of local and regional banks.

With 620 beds, Roundtree Commons was financed through the university's real estate foundation.

With 620 beds, Roundtree Commons was financed through the university's real estate foundation.

Positive Outcomes

As a public institution, the university needed to work closely with internal and external partners to complete these projects. The support of Gov. Scott Walker and local legislators was instrumental to achieving the results: approximately 1,000 additional beds in two years, accommodations developed and constructed with the cost to the student as a prime concern.

Because Rountree Commons came in slightly under budget, "We created a reserve that will allow us to add enhancements as we go," says REF Director Bill Kloster. "And using some creative and durable finishes, such as a concrete floor with embedded glass chips, gives us a building with practical elegance."

Student response has been quite positive. "I very much enjoy living in Rountree Commons," says one resident. "It's a great feeling to have the front desk worker greet you when you come through the door and have people throughout the building know you by name and be available if you have any questions." 

SUBMITTED BY Robert G. Cramer, vice chancellor for administrative services, University of Wisconsin–Platteville


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