By Cheyenne Brown
The renovation of the high-rise dormitory, Russell Hall, has called for several adjustments within the freshmen community at the University of Georgia.
The $44.5 million renovations began in May 2017. The decision was made by the Board of Regents of the University of Georgia. The regents approved a plan which UGA will use reserve funds from University Housing.
The Russell renovation “would increase room space and flexibility through the removal of built-in furnishings, and provide students with individualized in-room temperature controls,” according to the Board of Regents Meeting Agenda in October 2016. “The hall bathrooms would be configured for greater privacy in showers and toilets. In addition to a complete update of the mechanical, electrical, plumbing and IT systems, windows would be replaced to improve energy efficiency and modifications would be made to enhance ADA accessibility.”
Russell Hall is located on the west side of campus in the Russell Hall Community along with Creswell and Brumby Hall. The 10-story building opened nearly 50 years ago in 1967 and can house 970 freshmen in double-occupancy rooms. With renovations taking place, the dorm was no longer as an option for incoming freshmen this school year. Freshmen had to look outside of typical freshmen housing for their new first-year homes.
This year UGA accepted one of its largest freshmen classes thus far, having over 5,800 new first-year students enrolled. Of those 5,839 students, not everyone was going to get the chance to live in a designated freshman dorm.
East Campus Village, located on the east side of campus, became home to many of these incoming students. Typically, ECV has been a community for upperclassmen, student-athletes or students who are disabled.
Russell is one of the least expensive dorms on campus with its cost at $2,772 per semester. The lowest rates for a normal room in ECV is $3,521 and that is for a four bedroom/two baths apartments. The lowest rate for an expanded room is $3,273 for the double occupancy four bedroom/two baths apartments.
ECV houses residents in fully-furnished two-, three-, or four-bedroom apartments with the option of one or two bathrooms. Apartments are fully equipped with a living room, a kitchen with cabinets, a sink, a microwave and a full-sized refrigerator.
For the first time this year expanded rooms have become an option as well. Expanded rooms turned single occupancy rooms into a double occupancy room. Double occupancy rooms have bunked extra-long twin beds, two desks and two dressers.
“There were a lot of complaints about the amount of space in the rooms. What contributed most to this was the fact that parents and students were not properly preparing for the minimal space they had by over packing,” ECV Residence Hall Director Casey Lewis said.
As a way of creating space for the incoming freshmen University Housing offered current ECV residents incentives to search for other possible living options.
“A limited number of contract holders have the opportunity to transfer housing assignments to Brown Hall at a discounted rate. The discounted rent will be equivalent to 50 percent of the Brown Hall rate or $2,482 for a double suite for the academic year,” according to an email that was sent out by University Housing in May 2017. “An incentive of $2,500 will be offered to a limited number of 2017-2018 residence hall contract holders who cancel their housing contracts.”
“I denied the offer because I feel safe living on campus with other students compared to an off-campus living area where my neighbors would be people from all over the local Athens area,” current Busbee Hall resident Racquel Cranston said.
As a result of low responses, a follow-up email was sent again a week later which then offered a new incentive of $3,500 and a new rent proposal of $1,462 for a whole year of living in Brown Hall.
Unlike Cranston, former Vandiver Hall resident Sarah Huynh took the offer and used the money to buy herself a new car. “The only reason I still lived on campus was because I did not have a car,” Huynh said.
For the first-year students replacing the ones who took the stipends, they may not be getting the same freshman experience as their classmates on the west side.
“Sometimes I do wish I was living on the west side, but in a way, I am getting still getting the ‘Brumby experience’ without actually living there. I am still sharing a close quarters room with a roommate, I just get my own common area and kitchen as well,” current expanded room resident Keyrell Wingfield said.
Renovations are expected to be completed by fall of 2018 and Russell Hall will be open to house next year’s incoming first-year students.