LAFAYETTE — University of Louisiana at Lafayette freshman Diamond Williams’ initial reaction to her new on-campus home: “Wow!”

“Gorgeous,” added her mom, Joslyn Williams, while looking around the two-story lobby.

Diamond Williams is one of 462 students who are among the first to call Baker Hall, a new four-story dorm on campus home.

As new residents moved in on Thursday with the help of students affiliated with ministries on campus, construction continued behind their new home on Huger Hall.

The building, a mirror-image of Baker, will house 468 students and open in time for the spring semester in January.

The two halls are part of the university’s plan to increase and improve students’ on-campus housing options.

The demand for on-campus housing this semester prompted the university to open another option — a hotel stay at the Crowne Plaza. Students are paying the same cost of a semester in Baker Hall with shuttle service and meals provided from the hotel site.

Those 150 students will be among the first to move into the new Huger Hall.

Both dorms will increase the university’s housing capacity by 37 percent, according to a university news release.

Both buildings offer suite-style rooms with shared small kitchenette areas that include a microwave and half-sized fridge. Each bedroom within the suite has its own bathroom accessible from the suite’s small common area.

As Diamond Williams opened the door to the two-bedroom suite she’ll share with three other girls, her excitement grew, “Oh, wow!”

“Wow and wow some more,” her mom said.

“This is cool,” Diamond Williams said as she decided to take the loft-style bed near the window.

“I’m happy for you,” her mom said. “This is really nice.”

Her mom approved of the bathroom, too, and began making a list of items they’ll need to pick up before she headed back to Alexandria.

There’s no living room in the suite-style dorms, an intentional design feature to foster student interaction, said Jeremy Doss, vice president of business development for Ambling University Development Group.

In the hallways, framed posters of events like Festival International de Louisiane and other artwork decorate the walls and high ceilings help create more of a hotel-like atmosphere as opposed to a dorm.

Each floor has at least two “community rooms” — living rooms — and a study room. The ground floor has a larger lounge area, a full kitchen, game room and laundry room with technology that enables students to know when machines are free or when their clothes are dry.

As another way to foster student interaction, the university plans to build small learning communities of students of the same major or interest. This semester, the first “living learning” community includes 16 freshmen within the Moody College of Business, said Greg Zerangue, ULL associate dean of students.

Students take the same classes and they’ll attend social events and mandatory meetings, Zerangue said. The small group will also have access to seminars or study groups led by faculty, he said.

“The goal is engagement and retention,” Zerangue said and added that other universities have found success with the concept.

ULL President Joseph Savoie said the goal is to grow the “living learning” concept to include other student groups, even the marching band.

“We’ll have band members in this building. Preferably on this side,” Savoie joked and gestured toward the front of the hall that faces the band’s practice field. The field is a few steps away from the hall’s front entrance.

Major renovations and new dorm construction are also planned for the residential area known as the Rose Garden. Construction in the Rose Garden is expected to be complete by next August.

Savoie said the area’s proximity to the Student Union makes it an ideal location to create a community of freshmen students.

Now open

The University of Louisiana at Lafayette’s newest parking garage, Olivier Tower, accessible along McKinley Street, is open. The $13 million parking tower offers 852 spaces, and its first floor will house the ULL Credit Union and offices for parking and transit services.