Eastern Illinois University is moving forward in preparing its residence halls for the next generation of students, starting this summer with an assessment of Carman Hall.
“In updating our housing master plan, we realized that we have an unusual window of opportunity to do a thorough analysis of Carman including all mechanical systems,” said Mark Hudson, director of housing and dining services. “Right now, we have enough capacity to take Carman off-line for the next year or two and determine what we need to do to make sure we are ready for the next generation of students.”
He explained that new student enrollment levels are expected to rise starting next year so the timing was critical.
“Our applications are up substantially for the coming year,” he said, “so we knew we had to start the process now or lose this opportunity. As it stands, we will have sufficient space in our other residence halls for the next two years. After that, we’re anticipating needing more of our capacity back on-line.”
The process will start with an engineering assessment of the building – a process which can take several months to complete. After that, a master plan for the building can be developed.
The university tries to schedule much of the work on residence halls during the summer, Hudson said, but noted that summer really only has 75 construction days – a time period insufficient to do a major project like the Carman assessment and upgrade.
What’s more, many of the systems in Carman that need to be evaluated and face potential upgrades – like the heating and air conditioning system – are hidden within the walls.
“You don’t want to be opening up walls when the students are in residence,” Hudson said, “and we know we have some issues that may take some time to address.” The heating and cooling system, for instance, uses the same pipes to carry both hot and cold water. Hudson said that more than 40 years of use have led to leaks in some of the pipes which run through the walls. “We won’t really know the extent of the issues until we start opening up walls,” he said. While the current systems are functioning effectively, doing some preventive maintenance will ensure we can continue to effectively serve the residents.
While the mechanical issues are dealt with, Hudson said, the university will also have a perfect opportunity to refresh the building and add key features which students expect such as wireless Internet service. This will be a good chance to consider other service and building enhancements to meet the future needs of residents.
“Technological improvements such as better wireless access are specifically included in the university’s strategic plan as part of the infrastructure needed to support the university’s learning environment,” Hudson said. “But the evaluation will also include some of the other initiatives contained in the strategic plan such as enhancing learning communities and maximizing integrative learning.”
In addition to the residence hall itself, the Carman Dining Center will also be taken off-line and undergo the same review. “We will be able to accommodate the students in the remaining dining centers," he said. “While Carman is off-line, we’ll be doing focus groups and surveys to see what other options we might want to provide in Carman once it re-opens.”
Hudson also noted that EIU staff members currently working in Carman will all be absorbed into other facilities and that no employees will lose their jobs as the result of Carman being taken off-line.
“We have had a number of retirements in the last year so those employees – along with the residence life staff – are needed elsewhere in the system,” he said. “That was another important factor in moving ahead with this project right now.”
Hudson noted that there is a mistaken notion that the entire freshman class is housed in Carman. That, he said, just isn’t true.
In reality, less than 25 percent of the freshmen are there with the rest being housed in other residence halls across the campus. That means that the distribution of students throughout the campus really won’t change much.
While work on Carman Hall is under way, the university will also focus on the next major residence hall project – possibly an update of Pemberton Hall. This historic building, the first women’s residence hall built in Illinois, is about to become the administrative home of the Honors College. With those offices being placed in the south end of the building, in the former location of the Textbook Rental Service, talks are under way to explore the possibility of creating a ”Residential College” to further enhance this outstanding program.
“All universities need to update their residence halls periodically, and we have been doing just that for the past decade,” Hudson said. “This is particularly important as we anticipate entering a period of new growth. It’s a healthy sign and an indication that EIU is moving forward.”