Closing dorms hurts unique community of North Campus

With the state funding outlook still ominous, UK recently made the right move by making plans to close two residence halls with low occupancy next year. But UK should not consider it a job well done and stop there.

Closing Boyd and Jewell halls, with average occupancies this year of 82 percent and 61 percent, respectively, would save UK Housing about $300,000, the Kernel reported on Feb. 6. For the housing program to break even, residence halls need to be at least 90 percent occupied, said Ben Crutcher, associate vice president of auxiliary services.

While closing these dorms effectively cuts UK’s spending, it also presents some problems of its own.

First, both dorms are located on North Campus, a part of campus that has its distinct qualities and attractions for many students. Closing two of its seven dorms will significantly lower the number of residents on North Campus and change its composition drastically, thereby stripping away some of its unique qualities.

In addition, demand for campus housing will rise with the natural growth in enrollment, and closing two of the existing 22 dorms only serves to increase the housing strain, especially without building any new dorms.

UK currently doesn’t have a plan in place to solve the possible housing jam in the near future. For the coming school year, in the event that the number of applicants exceeds the housing capacity, some will be placed Jewell Hall until spaces open up in other dorms, Crutcher said. A large increase in housing applicants might force Boyd and Jewell halls to reopen for the 2009-10 school year, he added.

We think both of the above concerns need to be addressed by UK Housing. For now, what will be done with Boyd and Jewell halls after their closing is still unknown, Crutcher said. While we understand it is difficult to make plans when state funding for the next few years is still up in the air, UK should look into preliminary plans for when the budget crisis passes.

With secure funding, UK should find ways to once again utilize the two soon-to-be-closed dorms. The main reasons these dorms have low occupancy rates are the lack of air conditioning and the overall condition of the buildings. To attract residents for these dorms, UK has two approaches: lower the housing rates for these buildings or carry out renovations, including the installation of air conditioning.

Currently, UK Housing charges students $5,524 annually for a double occupancy room without air conditioning and the mandatory dining plan, according to its Web site ( The difference between the cost for these dorms and older air-conditioned dorms is less than $300 per year. Such a difference is not significant enough to motivate students to choose dorms without air conditioning. Lowering the rate further can attract more residents to live in these buildings.

Carrying out renovations in these dorms, while costly, will provide residents with a much better living and learning environment and will help retain North Campus’ unique identity. However, it is up to the university to look into the situation carefully and decide whether the investment is better spent in renovating these old dorms or building new ones to replace them.

We are aware that both these options will require funding to be carried out. While it seems unlikely that such funding can be spared during this time of budget crisis, UK should not stop making plans to solve these problems when funding is secured.