New Baker residence hall ready for students to return

July 25, 2008

This year students at Baker University will have more choices for on-campus living as the university opens its living and learning center this fall.

Gary Walbridge, director of the physical plant at Baker, said the university would receive the keys to the residence hall on Aug. 1. Student-athletes will begin moving in on Aug. 17, while new students and returning student will move in on Aug. 23-24. He said the construction for the new building was ahead of schedule, despite difficulties with inclement weather.

"It's going really well in spite of all the weather," Walbridge said. "It was a sea of mud for a long time, but the workers continued working hard. There's been a lot of working on Saturday and Sundays."

The new residence hall has a u-shape and will be located at Dearborn and Seventh streets, north of Harter Union. At 52,000 square feet, the new residence hall will be the largest on campus, with three stories and six wings.

The building will house 190 students in 48 rooms. There will also be five additional rooms for residential assistants and other personnel. Space will be reserved on the first floor for a kitchen, which students can use with the permission of a hall worker.

The rooms at the residence hall fall under three different types of floor plans. All of the different rooms have their own bathrooms and two of the three floor plans include a shared living space for residents. Students living in the facility will choose their rooms through a lottery system that favors older residents.

In addition to the living areas, there will be two different classrooms in the residence hall, although Walbridge said the university hadn't decided what classes would be taught there yet.

Teresa Clounch, associate dean of students at Baker University, said the new residence hall would allow Baker students living on campus to have a greater range of choice in deciding where they live. In addition, the fact that the new residence hall have classes in them would help tie academics and campus life together for students, Clounch said.

"Anytime you're able to better connect academic experiences with living experience, you're helping students," Clounch said.

She said that although programs for connecting academic life with student life probably wouldn't be implemented until the next school year, several faculty members had already begun talking about ways to mesh the two together, such as having certain rooms where students learning German cluster together to practice vocabulary.

The university received bids of $12 million and $10 million to build the residence hall, but the university eventually settled on a third bid of $6.3 million. Maxim Construction, based out of Bucyrus, is leading the construction, while Overland Park-based architects Hollis and Miller designed the building. Student Suites, a company specializing in on-campus living based out of Blue Springs, Mo., is serving as the developers for the construction.

Construction for the new residence hall began in the second week of November. The idea to build a new living center came up when former Baker President Dan Lambert, who was close to retiring, asked Walbridge and Baker University Chief Financial Officer Jo Adams to create a plan for the university.

"Dan Lambert challenged Jo and me in 2003 to put together a 10-year plan and in that plan we considered new building and eventually decided to build the dorm," Walbridge said.

Increased enrollment at Baker University was one of the reasons for the construction of the new residence hall, but Adams and Walbridge also decided to build it as a way of attracting more students to the university and holding their interest once they got there.

"One of our goals for this dorm is recruiting and retaining students," Walbridge said. "Each year we lose the most kids after their first and second semester, and one of the reasons is that they're disappointed with their living situation."

Walbridge said that the increased revenue the residence hall would bring in would allow the university to pay off the money spent in its construction in five years.

Walbridge said that, in addition to helping Baker University, the new residence hall would also help local businesses in Baldwin City by increasing their earnings.

"A lot of business people like to see kids come back to the university and stay for the weekends," Walbridge said. "In the past, it wasn't unusual for students to go to Lawrence, Ottawa, Kansas City or home for the weekend, but with the price of gas so high there's going to be less of that, so merchants should see revenues increase."

In addition to the opening the new residence hall, Walbridge said he was planning improvements for the other dorms and planning an addition to the science hall.

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