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University residence halls get modern update

3:59 AM, Aug 21, 2013   |    comments
Freshman Julie Strohmeier, from left, helps her friends Tabitha Daniels and Amanda Hickman move into the University Tower on Aug. 17 in Indianapolis. (Photo: Kelly Wilkinson, The Indianapolis Star)
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Like thousands of students moving into dorm rooms for the first time, Indiana State University freshman Lane Swanson was assigned a standard double room with a shared bathroom on a long hallway.

The wacky coincidence: His grandma lived in that exact room 50 years ago.

It's kinda weird," said Swanson, 18, Williamsport. It's "really creepy," if you ask his roommate.

But this is no longer your grandma's dorm room.

Not just in Terre Haute, Ind., but across college campuses, dorm rooms are getting makeovers to accommodate a new generation of students. Forget the spartan cinder-block rooms of yore. Think semi-private baths, high-rise downtown vistas and arcade-like community game rooms.

Renovations to ISU's Erickson Hall, unveiled this fall and costing $10 million, made way for rooms both wired for Internet and wireless. The residence hall has secured bathrooms that have to be unlocked with a swipe of a student ID. Swanson and his roommate made space in their room for his 32-inch, flat-screen TV with free cable.

"It's the same room, same room number - but a different room in a way," said Swanson, a criminology major at ISU.

His mother hopes it's a good omen. His grandmother, 67-year-old Peggy Kenworthy, hopes her grandson will share the same kinds of experiences she had in 1963: pizza parties, birthday cakes.

"We stayed up all night when we shouldn't have," she said. "It was lots of good times and good fun."

Like a hotel?

In Indianapolis, Indiana University-Purdue University's new University Tower might feel like a four-star hotel - because it was.

In its former life, the residence hall was a conference center and hotel that hosted New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady and coach Bill Belichick when the team came to town last year for the Super Bowl.

Now incoming freshmen will enjoy the downtown skyline, with views from the same 10th-floor penthouse rooms where those football stars stayed.

"By residence hall standards, I would say it's beyond a four-star," said Aaron J. Hart, IUPUI's director of housing and residence life. "This is the nicest, most state-of-the-art residence hall that I've ever seen for freshmen for my entire career."

It's flipping the norm: No longer do students have to weather older dorms until they can have nicer options as upperclassmen. And upperclassmen at IUPUI still have prime on-campus apartment options.

"People think of us as a commuter campus, but we actually are an urban campus with a residential feel," Hart said.

The debut of University Tower led some students to choose IUPUI, he added.

After a $5.5 million conversion, the residence hall features double and triple rooms, each with private bathrooms. A bistro converted into a game room holds arcade games, a foosball table and a pool table. The laundry machines are free and hooked up to the Internet so students can use their computers to check to see what machines are available and when their wash is done.

"If you like where you live," Hart said, "you're going to be in a better mental state."

Greater expectations

At Indiana University in Bloomington, a spanking new residence hall opens this year. The Rose Avenue Residence Hall, a $35 million construction project, was part of a larger plan to remodel and replace older dorms without increasing the number of beds, said Tom Morrison, Indiana University's vice president for capital planning and facilities.

Some of the changes are badly needed upgrades to old infrastructure. But others aim to keep up with trends.

"Students come to us today with different expectations for living arrangements," Morrison said. "Their perceived needs are different from what it was a generation ago."

This is largely a generation that grew up with their own rooms and sometimes their own bathrooms, he said. They're used to more space.

"This is all a balance," he said. "You're trying to give the students what they want but at the same time, keep the cost of college and housing low."

Suite-style residence halls and bigger rooms are becoming more popular. So are small fitness rooms and convenience stores within the building.

Lest you think students will be spoiled by having shower lockers instead of cramming caddies on a windowsill, know that new dorms bring a host of new problems - that the noise of an elevator announcing what floor it's on drives one student crazy in his nearby room. That students will inevitably have a middle-of-the-night fire alarm because some inattentive jerk burned popcorn in the microwave that's now permitted in some rooms or provided in kitchenettes.

But some things never change. For all the shiny amenities, students are still sleeping on those ugly - sorry, "institutional-grade" - wood-frame beds. And there are still roommates to squabble with.

Stephanie Wang, The Indianapolis Star