Last year, LSU had to force hundreds of incoming students seeking dormitory rooms to live off-campus because of a lack of space in residence halls.
While last year’s student housing waiting list was the longest in LSU history, this year’s list is already down to “zero” prior to the Aug. 22 beginning of classes, said Steve Waller, LSU director of residential life.
In fact, there are extra beds still available for students to live on campus this fall.
The main reason for the change is the reopening of 46-year-old Kirby-Smith Hall that is regularly derided as an outdated eyesore.
The 14-floor building will house 350 students after receiving $1.7 million in improvements: new paint, carpeting, furniture, laundry rooms, refurbished bathrooms and more, Waller said.
Kirby-Smith is a popular punch line for LSU leaders, even as they acknowledge the old dorm’s usefulness when space is needed.
“We’re marketing it as a historic international experience,” LSU Chancellor Michael Martin said in a speech to a group of business leaders last month.
The dormitory was built in a utilitarian style popular when it opened.
He waited a beat, then Martin added with a chuckle: “It’s a chance to live in the Soviet Union.”
Waller said the building may not look pretty on the outside, but it has been restored within.
“I will rival its looks with any other (dorm) properties,” Waller said. “Now, the outside is a different story.”
“That was a home run,” said Emmett David, LSU’s facility development director, noting the timeliness in Kirby-Smith being updated and that it was funded fully internally through LSU’s Residential Life dollars.
LSU’s freshman class is expected to be smaller than last year’s near-record size, Waller said. But LSU will still house about 200 more students on campus this year than last, courtesy of Kirby-Smith, he said.
The old dormitory is expected to be used as student housing for about five years, while other new housing is constructed on campus, he said.
After helping students find more off-campus housing last year, Waller said, the focus next year will switch to convincing more students to return to on-campus housing as more dormitory construction projects are completed.
Other campuses, such as the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, dealing with growing enrollments and housing crunches this fall are turning to hotels, temporarily. About 150 UL-Lafayette students are expected to begin the semester living in the Crowne Plaza hotel in Lafayette.
As for LSU, with an enrollment of about 29,000 students, the university can accommodate nearly 6,000 living on campus, Waller said.
That number should grow next year when the renovated East Laville Hall for honor students opens with an extra 300 beds, he said. Renovations for West Laville Hall were completed last year.
LSU also is expected to open new Residential College dormitories next year — where Graham Hall once stood — that are under construction and would add another 358 beds, Waller said. The Residential College represents a $20 million project.
But that will occur as Annie Boyd Hall is taken offline to undergo a complete, $15 million gutting and modernization project, he said.
Long term, LSU is in the design phase to build two more 330-bed residence halls — likely in the northwest corner of campus — that could open in 2015 or 2016, Waller said, when and if funding becomes available.
The projects are funded through self-generated housing dollars or revenue bonds paid for through the Department of Residential Life, he said.
When those are opened, Kirby-Smith likely can be retired again, Waller said.