RLHS faces increasing costs, economic woes

Craven Quadrangle has been the site of three major maintenance failures since last fall: a pipe explosion, the collapse of a marble wall and the smell of sewage in shower water.

Eddie Hull, executive director of housing services and dean of residence life, said some of the incidents did not occur without "help"-a student had stuffed the pipe that exploded with paper towels, for example. Still, the plumbing in Craven is nearly 80 years old and in need of repair.

Crowell Quadrangle is in more dire need of renovation, but, in addition to fixing the immediate problems, Residence Life and Housing Services will also have to supply the funds for between 1,100 and 1,200 beds that are projected to be created in Phase I of Central Campus renovations.

Relief looks like a distant prospect.

"You wrap that all together and it's a very daunting situation," Hull said. "It becomes an institutional problem."

RLHS is an auxiliary service of the University, thus receiving all of its funding internally. It can only pay for projects in two ways-by raising housing fees and by taking out loans. But Hull said housing fees are "very high already."

Loans are also problematic, said Michael Scott, director of finance and administration at RLHS.

Kilgo Quadrangle was renovated between summer 2002 and summer 2004 at a cost of about $30 million in loans. West Campus' Keohane Quadrangle and Bell Tower Dormitory on East Campus were also debt-financed.

RLHS's annual budget is about $30 million.

"The debt load is significant," Scott wrote in an e-mail. "As you might imagine, our annual operating budget precludes us from paying 'cash' for projects of that size. The amount of debt we can service is limited and forces hard choices relative to any future major projects."

The cost of renovating Crowell was estimated at $34 million a year ago, although the estimate did not include furnishings. Scott said there has been no formal estimate made for Craven's renovations, but the price will likely be similar.

RLHS officials do not yet know what the costs of the Central project will be. The office uses an estimated $2,000 per student for outfitting residence halls, but without knowing the size of the apartments or what would be included, Scott said he cannot estimate any cost.

Per capita housing costs for residence hall rooms-not including the existing Central Campus apartments-have increased nearly $1,200 in the last five years with steady annual increases.

The increase for the 2006-2007 academic year is the smallest in the past five years-between 2.8 and 3.4 percent depending on the room. In previous years, fees were increased by a range of 4 to 7 percent.

Campus Council President Jay Ganatra, a junior, said the rising costs will be something on which he intends to focus next year.

"There's a problem with students paying for renovation of dorms that they won't be around for and that [RLHS] hasn't been taking care of with maintenance," Ganatra said. "We have to work together with Student Affairs and on up and tell them that we're not going to take all of the tab."

Members of the administration, however, said it is impossible for RLHS to finance all the residential projects.

"[RLHS] cannot afford to be responsible for the debt on Central housing and the renovation on West," said Executive Vice President Tallman Trask.

Trask said the University will give RLHS between $50 million and $100 million for either West Campus renovation or Central costs, although he said it would more likely be for renovation.

He added that the auxiliary model has advantages in that it breaks even, but also has disadvantages for services like housing and food due to limited funds.

"There's a certain attractiveness to that bottom line and methodology, but it also leads to bad food," he said. He added that the current structure might change as part of the University's strategic plan.

The average cost of a residence hall room in the 2005-2006 academic year was $5,837 per student.

The cost of apartments on Central has risen at a faster pace as part of an effort to bring the fees to levels comparable to those of residence hall rooms.

The 2005-2006 cost of residence hall living at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill was $4,600 per student, and Wake Forest University charged $5,498 per student.

Many housing offices around the nation are also auxiliaries, including those at the University of Pennsylvania, the University of Chicago, Wake Forest and UNC.

"It's been a problem at times in the past," said Rick Bradley, assistant director of housing at UNC.

"Next year will probably be a year that will be tighter. We have a $60-million apartment project that's coming in at $90 million, so that's going to cause some squeezes elsewhere in our budget."


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