UWRF working to contain dormitory overflows and grow more orderly

Posted March 23, 2018

Just adjacent to the northwest corner of campus is the Best Western Plus Campus Inn, a hotel that once served as the university’s overflow for extended on-campus housing prior to the completion of Ames Suites in 2012.

This school year, extended housing at UW-River Falls did not extend to the hotel, and instead consisted primarily of resident hall study lounges, each of which were shared as living spaces by five or six students throughout portions of fall semester.

“There were five of us in there,” said Kyle Mackey, a first-year student who was assigned to live in the third floor study lounge at Grimm Hall during fall semester. “It was pretty small for a room. There was three bunkbeds in a study lounge, so it was pretty tight.”

With bunkbeds absorbing so much of the space, finding a place for five guys to do homework was a particular challenge in the study lounge.

“We had time to do homework, but there was just two tables; there was no desk,” Mackey said. “We had like six dressers, but you couldn’t really do anything on those.”

Getting a full night’s sleep was also an ongoing struggle, he said, with “everybody waking up at different times for classes every morning and listening to five other alarms before you actually had to get up for your own class.”

Though Residence Life only intended for extended housing to be a temporary living environment for the 101 students that moved into the lounges at the beginning of September, by October the number increased to 108 students, according to Residence Life Director Karla Thoennes.

“Extended housing is a fairly common thing at most campuses, because you ebb and flow in your space and in your occupancy over the year,” Thoennes said.

An eventual decrease in occupancy during the latter portion of fall semester is what ultimately allowed Residence Life to ensure that every on-campus resident had a traditional room assignment before the start of spring semester.

“At UW-River Falls there’s a lot of transition from fall to spring,” Thoennes said. “In the springtime, we have students that go to student teach, a lot of study abroad is in the spring, so our occupancy always would go down, which opened up a lot of spaces for anyone who was still living in extended housing.”

With the issue of extended housing being fully resolved for this school year, now Residence Life is in the process of determining whether it will be employed again next year and to what degree.

“We’re anticipating the same number of occupancy as it was this fall,” Thoennes said. “Right now, we’re a little bit ahead of where we were last year as far as incoming students, but I just think they’re applying earlier than they were last year.”

Last year, however, there was an unusually high number of students who did not apply for housing until June, according to Thoennes, which is why it was not until summer that Residence Life realized extended housing would need to be employed for the upcoming school year.

Already anticipating the strong potential of utilizing extended housing once again, Residence Life has already made various changes to ensure they are assigning as few students as possible to live in study lounges.

“One of the things that is going to be different next fall is Prucha,” Thoennes said, referring to the only residence hall on campus that allows upperclass students to live independently in a traditional dorm room. “By the time we knew that we were going to need extended housing for this year, we had already assigned upperclassmen to use Prucha’s doubles as singles and made a promise that they could have those spaces. We kept that promise even though it meant we were going to be really tight. Next year we didn’t offer those as singles. We offered them only as double rooms.”

The change from singles to doubles will keep an additional 90 students out of extended housing for next year, Thoennes said. Another aspect that affects extended housing has to do with the policy regarding how many students are required to live on campus next year.

“We have a two-year residency policy, and we work really hard to enforce that policy,” Thoennes said. “We did get to the point where we put people who are not required to live on campus on hold, and didn’t assign them, and saved those spaces for people who would be expected and required to live on campus.”

While it will still be uncertain whether extended housing will be in effect come fall, Residence Life does expect to have a slightly clearer picture of occupancy when the RA selection process finishes up shortly after spring break, Thoennes said. Students who accept the position of being an RA forfeit their own personal room selection in exchange for a living space that is designated for RAs, which increases the number of beds available for incoming freshmen.

If extended housing is employed again in the fall, Residence Life fully intends to ensure that the students who live in those environments ultimately get reassigned to a room in the same building, if the student wishes, rather than being reassigned to any random location on campus.

This commitment to keeping students in their desired living location is what allowed Mackey to continue living on Grimm’s third floor when he moved into a traditional dorm room just prior to the start of J-term. Now enjoying the privacy, convenience and extra sleep that comes with living in a traditional room, Mackey said, he currently shares it with a fraternity brother of his.

“Last night I went to the study lounge, and it was like I slept right in this corner on the bottom bunk,” Mackey said. “It’s a little different now to see it with actual chairs and with everybody studying in there.”