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Down one dorm, U of M makes room for huge freshman class

Welcome Week Leader Jordyn McClain points out where incoming freshman Lillian Smith of Maple Grove should go to check in, as parents Dennis and Sandra Smith unload their vehicle near Territorial Hall at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis on Monday, Aug. 28. Scott Takushi / St. Paul Pioneer Press

MINNEAPOLIS—The University of Minnesota's largest freshman class since 1970 started moving in Monday, Aug. 28, and found they had the dorms entirely to themselves.

With the 700-bed Pioneer Hall out of commission for a two-year, $105 million renovation, the university reserved its dorms for just freshmen. It has also temporarily converted hundreds of school-run apartment units into dorm-style housing.

Mannix Clark, associate director of operations for housing and residential life, said the school has made room for every first-year student who wants to live in a dorm — roughly 88 percent of them. That was not the case last year, when some students who missed an application deadline had to find their own housing.

"We're in a pretty good place now," he said.

Robin Kelly of suburban Chicago is among the more than 6,000 first-year students moving in this week. The roommate he found through Facebook chose Territorial Hall, one of the four "superblock" dorm halls, including Pioneer.

Kelly likes that he gets to live close to classes and activities. As for his room?

"It's a dorm room," he said. "It's small, but it'll do."

Jeff Liss, also from suburban Chicago, preferred Territorial but got into Frontier Hall, another of the superblock dorms.

"They've got a lot of the freshman dorms all together so you can bond with them," he said. "It's a pretty solid dorm."

The apartment-style Roy Wilkins Hall will act as a dorm hall during the Pioneer renovation. The switch added 70 beds to the university's freshman housing stock. Two and a half floors of Yudof Hall also have been reserved for about 140 freshmen.

Some freshmen are being squeezed into tight spaces, however.

Clark expects about 80 students will be housed in discounted rooms — two students in what was meant to be a large single room, or three students in a double. They usually get the chance to change rooms as students drop out of school early in the semester.

However, the U will not be converting dorm common areas like TV lounges into bedrooms. Common areas once housed around 300 students, Clark said, but the U stopped that practice a year ago.

Master leases

For returning and transfer students who want to live in U-run housing, the school has signed master leases at two privately owned apartment buildings, Radius and Keeler. Those moves enable the university to provide those students some of the academic and social programming offered at traditional dorms.

"That really is critical for our first-year students," Clark said, but second-year and transfer students "want to meet people and acclimate, as well."

The U's Board of Regents wants to see 25 percent of dorm-housed freshmen returning to university housing as sophomores and at least 10 percent of transfer students in university housing.

The housing crunch could mean fewer returning students are living in university-run housing this year, but "it's a little bit early to know," Clark said.

Room and board rates are up 4.5 percent compared with last year, in part to pay for the Pioneer Hall renovation. Starting at $2,793 per semester for a double room and $1,939 for a common meal plan, university dorms remain cheaper than those at just about any Big Ten school.

The St. Paul Pioneer Press is a media partner with Forum News Service

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