Student input shapes new residence

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UW will soon have another residence available for incoming and returning students. This will be the first time in over a decade that a new residence has been built on the main campus.

Scheduled to open in two years, the construction for the building began June 23 as students and staff came out to the witness its official groundbreaking. The residence will be an addition to the already existing space available at UWP.

Unlike the suite-style rooms already present at UWP, this new building will feature more traditional dorm-like designs.

“One of the reasons we’ve targeted UWP as the location for this is because the existing buildings at UWP are arguably underserviced when compared to some of the other places we have, such as Village One [or] REV,” said Glen Weppler, director of housing at UW.  

While the rooms may reflect the traditional dorm model, they won’t look like other similar on-campus residences. Instead, they’ve been designed to look more like an “L,” to offer students more privacy.

“[The rooms are] a little more of an L-shape, if you will, and then there’s a half-wall, kind of at the midpoint,” said Weppler. “What that does is introduce a privacy feature inside the room so you could be in [one] part of the L [while] your roommate is [in the other half] — you won’t necessarily see one another. It introduces some privacy features, whereas if you’re in a big box, then you see everything.”

In addition to offering students greater privacy, Weppler emphasized the need for greater social spaces in residences. With this new residence, each floor will include six lounges.

“Student satisfaction with the residence experience is the most influenced by personal interactions. The more we can promote people interacting with other people — that’s students, student staff, faculty, full-time staff, the more likely they are to be satisfied with their environment,” said Weppler.

In addition to the modified rooms, 16 bathrooms will be available on each floor, and like the bedrooms, they’ve also been designed with the intention to increase privacy.

“There’s three spaces in the bathroom. There’s a sink room, a shower room, and a toilet room. And the toilet room and the shower room both have doors on them. So you could have a male student, a female student, and a transgender student in the same bathroom at the same time in their own relative privacy,” said Weppler.

Further amenities include a community centre, fitness room, laundry room, bike storage space, and a multi-faith room. There will also be a great hall similar to the ones at Village One and REV. Andrew Noble, the assisting project manager, said that this hall is estimated to service over 2,000 students and will act as a central eating area. It will also provide students with additional space to socialize and study in. The 24-hour desk currently available at UWP will be moved into this space.

While designing this space, Weppler and Noble introduced a consultation process in which residents, dons, students, university staff, and alumni were invited to express their ideas and concerns. In addition to regular consultation methods, numerous social media sites were used to open up discussion. They used a blog as their primary source for providing information while also interacting with students through Twitter under the hashtag #NewUWRez. Facebook and Reddit were also used.

“What is the highest priority in housing right now is just making evidence-based decisions. A good chunk of that evidence comes directly from students, so we’re looking at growing the channels of information we’re gathering,” said Noble. “We’re speaking in ways that students speak to us.”

This process began in the winter of 2014 and resulted in the modification of multiple building features. Initially, when the project began, it didn’t include designs for a gym.

“It would be too expensive to put in a gym and there’s other gyms on campus so that wasn’t really a priority at first,” said Noble. “Over time, just because of the number of students that were interested in that, we made the decision to add [a] gym facility. It won’t be huge, but it’ll have [a] treadmill … [and] a few different units to work out and stay in shape with, and that’s something that’s important.”

Further changes were made to the designs after UW alumnus Sam Nabi mentioned in a tweet that the initial plans of the hallways seemed &ldquo;institutional.&rdquo; Nabi later went on to construct an <a href="http://twitter.com/samnabi/status/458963785814773761" target="_blank">alternative plan</a> that has now been adopted within the design.</p>

“The original design called for two long, straight corridors, which we still have, but we actually shifted part of the building so it made a jog in the corridor. It just breaks up the space in a little bit of a different way,” Weppler said.

Weppler went on to explain that in order to make hallways more “inviting” and “break up the space,” bulletin boards and digital displays were included.

For the time being, the information gathered during this consultation process will not alter the policies or setup of current residences. However, it does add to the pool of information collected each term through surveys.

This new residence will be constructed at a time when the city of Waterloo is facing far too many empty rooms in student housing spaces. While this new residence is being built on main campus, dorms are also being built at UW’s affiliated colleges. With so many housing options available to students, Weppler says that on-campus housing is the best option for students.

According to Weppler, off-campus developers won’t offer students the same sense of community or traditional-style living options. These facilities found at UW residences, like the community centre and multiple lounges on each floor, are too expensive to build and maintain for profit.

“We’re meant to be a break-even operation. We have to be self-sustaining, so we don’t get any money from the university, nor do we contribute any money, so we’re not profit-centred either,” said Weppler. He went on to add that living on-campus offers students space to socialize and study and encourages student interaction.

While improving the student experience was a primary reasoning for why this project was necessary, Weppler also mentioned that UW runs the risk of not meeting its first-year residence guarantee.

“The only reason we’ve been able to maintain our first-year guarantee is we’ve squeezed out upper-year students. Now we’re down to only a few hundred upper-year spaces. If we go beyond that number, we’ll go beyond the risk of losing our first-year guarantee,” said Weppler.

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