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Wou Faces Housing Shortage

MONMOUTH -- An increased demand for on-campus housing at Western Oregon University this fall is stretching available accommodations thin, officials said.

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Tina Fuchs, WOU Dean of Student and Judicial Affairs

MONMOUTH -- An increased demand for on-campus housing at Western Oregon University this fall is stretching available accommodations thin, officials said.

Enough so, that it has forced administrators to designate a building for student occupancy that hasn't been used in that manner since the mid-1980s and to start a waiting list for dorm rooms for non-freshmen.

Tina Fuchs, Dean of Student and Judicial Affairs, said the situation isn't completely unexpected in that enrollment is projected to exceed 5,100.

"What is surprising is the number of upperclassmen and returning students who have opted to remain (living) on campus after last year," she said. "That has increased by 15 percent from the year before ... those numbers are greater than anticipated."

Almost 1,500 applications have been submitted for dorm rooms this fall, about 200 more than during the same time last year.

The university has 1,316 beds in seven residence halls it currently uses. That also excludes family housing units.

The potential shortage came to light a couple of weeks ago, after officials discovered a record-keeping mix up underestimated demand and caused dormitories to be overbooked by 280 slots.

Fuchs said that figure has been pared down somewhat with late cancellations by students.

Still, Western created 88 spaces by opening Maaske Hall, which had formerly served as quarters for cadets when the Oregon Police Academy was still in Monmouth.

Maaske Hall is currently being used as a temporary home for professors while renovation work finishes on the Humanities and Social Sciences building.

Faculty will be relocated to that latter structure by September, said Mark Weiss, Vice President of Finance and Administration.

Weiss said about $200,000 in furnishings will be placed in Maaske Hall "in a rushed manner from now until" fall.

Administrators will add another 88 beds by utilizing units in three of the residence halls that have traditionally housed three students per room, but have space for four.

Western faced a similar housing crunch last year, and ultimately opened Arbuthnot Hall -- another former police academy dorm.

"I wouldn't say we're in a crisis mode," Fuchs said. "But, we did have to find extra beds."

Freshmen are required to live on campus during their first year at Western and are given priority for dorms. Upperclassmen, transfer and nontraditional students who applied for housing after May 19, however, have been put on a waiting list. That tally stands at 35 today.

"We still have space available in terms of first year," Fuchs said. "But for transfers and others, we've communicated to those who have applied that we don't have space and have offered them brochures and referrals for rental agencies."

No formal survey has been done that would explain why more older students are looking for on-campus accommodations instead of apartments.

But "I think part of it is convenience, part of it is the cost of commuting," Fuchs said. And "this is anecdotal, but I think that a lot of students don't believe there is enough housing off campus or the type of housing they want."

The issue of housing demand exceeding supply at state higher education institutions has garnered wide-spread attention because of a shortage at the University of Oregon, which has forced officials there to locate students this fall in off-campus apartments in Eugene.

"The UO situation has made many in the Oregon University System aware of the fact that we have lots of new students coming and have to make sure we can accommodate them," Fuchs said.

The housing situation has stymied some other planned capital construction. Once faculty had cleared out of Maaske, it was slated for renovation to convert it to needed office space for several departments, said Paul Finke, facilities engineer.

That improvement will be postponed for the foreseeable future, "if enrollment continues like it has," Finke said.

"It's fortunate we have it; it's a benefit for the housing situation right now," he said. "But it creates other challenges."

Meanwhile, planning continues for new residences slated for completion in 2010.

The state authorized $11 million for a facility during the 2007 legislature. The university recently hired an architect to design one -- or possibly multiple -- buildings that would be erected northwest of The Grove.

"Our goal is to create a set of buildings that will create housing accommodations for 300 students," Fuchs said.

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