Baker's new apartments are yet another choice for students at the "residential liberal arts college."
When the earth-moving machines cranked up a few weeks ago south of Baldwin Elementary School, interest around town was raised. So were questions.
What really is going up a half block north of the Baker Student Union is a two-building complex of "university apartments" that will house 96 students next fall if the planned completion date is reached. Make no mistake, they are not dormitories or residential halls.
"They will be university apartments where each student will have a private room and then share kitchen, restroom and living space with other students," said John Fuller, university spokes-man. "We think it will be quality housing for the students. It's an option we haven't had before.
"It's going to help our entire university, because we are a residential liberal arts college. That's what we want to be and where we want to go. We think it's the best possible way to fully realize that goal."
Along with the new university apartments comes stricter adherence to a requirement that all students will live on campus for their four-year stay, with certain exempted students. Those are married students, those over 23 years of age, and those living with their parents and commuting.
Technically, it is not a new rule. But in the recent past students have been allowed to live off-campus during their senior year. That's amounted to about 90 to 100 students per year, according to Fuller. There are research-backed reasons for the change and Baker isn't the only school with such rules, said Jim Troha, dean of students.
"We've had a four-year policy (for residing on campus) on the books for years," said Troha. "It's a matter of how you enforce it. We are by no means alone in this requirement. Bethany and Southwestern come to mind quickly.
"There have been hundreds of studies done on residential education and how on-campus students do better academically, socially and have better retention rates than off-campus students," he said. "Living independently makes it easier to skip classes and not participate in student activities. We think it (the four-year requirement) is best for everyone. It creates more of a community."
Both Fuller and Troha admitted the immediate reaction to the requirement from students wasn't all good. Typically, students don't like to be told what to do, they said. But, after the university apartment concept was explained, the reaction has been much more favorable.
"It (student reaction) has been mixed. No question," said Troha. "A lot of students were defensive about it. I understand that. But I think they started to come around after they saw what we were offering.
"If we asked them to stay here for four years with what we currently have to offer, we'd be in trouble. We'd've had some students go through the roof. We'll have to take our lumps on this one and ride it out. In two years, I don't think it will be a factor."
A total of $5.7 million is being spent to make the campus more livable, Fuller said. That includes roughly $3.2 million for the two new university apartment buildings. Other improvements and renovations will be done at current residential halls and other buildings on campus to bring them more in line with American with Disabilities Act accessibility requirements. The most notable ADA work is the addition of elevators at the Student Union and Mulvane Hall.
But, as with any project of such magnitude, it's brought about questions. One of those has involved the Greek system of fraternities and sororities. Some have asked if the new requirement will bring an end to the Greek system.
"It could work out to be just the opposite. It could be good for the fraternities and sororities," said Fuller. "In the past, some members have deactivated from the fraternity for their senior year so they could live off-campus. Now they won't have that option. It could be positive for the whole Greek system."
Living in a fraternity or sorority satisfies the residential requirement, he said.
The university apartment spaces will be allocated first to seniors who have lived in residential halls previously. Those from the Greek system would then take their chances on getting an open spot should they choose to deactivate.
Another unfounded rumor had the new "dorm" being nine stories tall, that being the reason the city bought a new ladder truck and built the new fire station. None of that is true, he said. In fact, the fire truck was purchased before Baker announced its plans for the apartments.
And about those nine stories and where will everyone park?
"There will be a ground floor and two additional stories for a total of three," said Fuller. "There will be two buildings. They will be close, but they will not be connected. There will be landscaping in between, and they were designed with the grade school across the street in mind. Parking will be across the street to the east where there is an empty lot now."