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On an aging campus, Carolina Housing continues plans for residence hall renovations


Dorms around campus are starting to show their age. Every student has their own unique experience staying on campus. An aerial photo of dorms off of Manning Dr. pictured here on Sunday, Jan. 21, 2023.

As a requirement for all first-years, most UNC students receive the on-campus housing experience sometime during their time in Chapel Hill.

Through renovations and new developments in on-campus housing, the University attempts to balance both student needs and affordability.

But as the campus ages, residence halls across campus have undergone smaller-scale renovations over the past few years, such as central air upgrades, new windows and new tiling.

“They (the buildings) are very nice in some cases, but it's a room smaller than you would probably otherwise want to share with another human being,” Allan Blattner, executive director of Carolina Housing, said. “But we have to take this experience, and meld it into the Carolina experience for our students.”

In the summer of 2019, window units in Stacy Residence Hall were replaced with a centralized HVAC system, and Joyner Residence Hall received the same upgrade in the following summer.

Between May and September 2022, UNC also replaced washing machines and dryers across campus.  

More robust plans were part of the 2019 University Master Plan, which incorporated a variety of construction and design plans for a 15-year timeline. The Planning and Design Department of Facilities Services developed the plan with input from Carolina Housing. 

“Part of what's hard about the Master Plan is the kind of work that we need to do in the buildings can't just be done in a summer anymore. We've done most of those projects,” Blattner said.

Part of the Master Plan includes South Campus' Odum Village, a former graduate housing complex that has since been partially demolished and left unoccupied. The land that the complex sits on is intended to be a part of the "Campus South Hub" zone that is outlined in the Master Plan.

The plan was to be further discussed and more broadly implemented in 2020 but was delayed due to the onset of the coronavirus pandemic. 

“The attention was shifted to more near-term, immediate needs to keep people safe and try as best as possible to keep people healthy,” University Architect Evan Yassky said.

Carolina Housing profit relies on student dues, which were refunded during the pandemic, causing a significant financial impact that led Carolina Housing to reassess the original renovation plans. 

“Is (the plan) still the right way to do it? Part of that is an evaluation of ‘Have students' needs changed based on the pandemic?’” Blattner said. “In some ways they have, and in some ways they haven't.” 

In hopes to continue intentions of the Master Plan, an overall upgrade to Avery Residence Hall is the next major housing project in line. 

Construction is scheduled to begin in May 2024 and will require Avery to be “offline” for 12 to 15 months. The renovations will include centralized HVAC and accessibility features such as an elevator and accessible showers.

Parker and Teague Residence Halls could also be renovated similarly to Avery or demolished and replaced by new buildings with additional floors, Blattner said.

Carolina Housing aims to support students in the transition to college life with the on-campus living requirement for first-years. This allows students to be more engaged in the UNC community and have easier access to a University resources. 

Roughly 40 percent of undergraduate students live on campus, according to the Carolina Housing Strategic Plan. Blattner said on-campus housing can allow a level of convenience and flexibility that the off-campus market lacks.

“I think if I was farther away, my motivation to go to class would dip significantly,” Cameron Neale, a sophomore who lives in Kenan Residence Hall, said.

Neale also cites affordability and proximity as motivations to continue living on campus. She said that athletic events and friends in other dorms are always within walking distance. 

Some students say that choosing another year of on-campus housing can also be easier than finding roommates and an apartment or house before winter break.

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“I feel like while you're adjusting to your classes, you just aren't ready to commit to something like that. So you end up living on campus again,” Connor Lee, a first-year who lives in Graham Residence Hall, said.

And while some students enjoy living on-campus, others have not had as pleasant experiences. Other on-campus housing options have struggled with maintenance issues such as broken elevators, lead in the water and cleanliness. 

“It’s a unique time. I really hope that students continue to see the value in that,” Blattner said. “That the experience is uniquely collegiate and uniquely Carolina.”