A sneak peek at KU’s newest dorm, Downs Residence Hall

A University of Kansas photographer shoots a photo of the entryway to Downs Hall, which connects the newly-constructed residentce hall with Oliver Hall, Friday, Aug. 11, 2017.

Two years ago, the University of Kansas opened a pair of brand-new residence halls, Oswald and Self, in an effort to bring students together on Daisy Hill, the university’s on-campus housing hub.

KU Student Housing has similar goals when it comes to Cora Downs Residence Hall, which opens officially Thursday during the university’s primary move-in day for student housing residents. The $51 million complex, with its 545 beds and 22,000-square-foot dining center, will soon become the new center of the KU campus as construction progresses on KU’s Central District.

Located behind Oliver Hall and within short walking distance of several academic buildings as well as recreation facilities, KU leaders anticipate Downs Hall will provide an attractive — and convenient — focal point for students and visitors alike.

“We’re going to see that crown jewel, per se, over this next 12 to 15 months, as everything in this whole area comes together,” said Sarah Waters, director of KU Student Housing. “So this is one of the first pieces to fall into place, but it’s really going to make the Central District a destination for KU students.”

Here’s a look at the new Downs Hall from the Journal-World’s tour Friday.

The rooms

Unlike Oswald and Self halls, which only accept freshmen in an effort to strengthen the first-year experience at KU, the new Downs Hall is open to all students. The building’s top floor has been reserved especially for upper-division and transfer students, said Kip Grosshans, KU Housing’s associate director.

“One of the decisions we took here was to try to encourage continued occupancy or residency,” Grosshans said. Because of that, university leaders opted for several “firsts” in the building’s design.

Downs offers four room options, each considerably more spacious than dorm rooms of older generations. Layout options include a four-person suite with two bathrooms, a four-person suite with two bathrooms and two shared bedrooms, a four-person suite with two bathrooms and private bedrooms for each resident, and a two-person suite with a shared bathroom and private bedrooms. Laundry rooms are located on each floor.

The second and third options, Grosshans said, are new to KU residence halls. Only the two largest layouts have living rooms, which Grosshans hopes will motivate students to mingle in Downs’ common areas.

Downs is also KU’s first dorm with coed wings, meaning men and women will be able to live across the hall from one another, though the suites themselves are single-gender.

“I think a lot of students are very much open to having men across the hall, or women,” said Waters, acknowledging that some parents might not be as comfortable with the idea. Still, she said, “We’ve got a variety of room types, so we can still meet needs for different populations with different beliefs and values.”

Commons areas

Downs’ first floor boasts a community kitchen that residents can “rent out” for personal use, as well as a large conference room and a recreation room with a pool table and pingpong.

There’s also a spacious courtyard area accessible from the outside and inside of the building for students to mingle and enjoy a bit of green space. The grass is pretty recently planted, however, and the area could feature more landscaping or design elements in the future, Waters said.

South Commons

One of Downs’ defining features is its dining center, the South Commons, which connects Downs with the neighboring Oliver Hall. Aside from Lewis Hall’s massive Mrs. E’s on Daisy Hill, South Commons might be the largest dining center housed in KU’s residence halls, Grosshans said.

And, like Mrs. E’s, it’s not just open to the students who live in its attached residence hall. Although KU Housing leaders are hoping the center will primarily bring together neighbors in Oliver and Downs, any student with a campus meal plan can dine at South Commons.

It’s a convenient location for students looking to grab a bite between classes in the nearby KU schools of engineering, music, business and law, Waters said, as well as visitors drawn to neighboring sports and recreation facilities such as Allen Fieldhouse and Hoglund Ballpark.

“So many visitors come in to see that realm of our campus,” Waters said. “They’re also now going to have the residence halls right here — they can see up to Daisy Hill, and really see what the KU experience can be and will be for our students.”

As part of the university’s broader $350 million Central District project, Downs Hall will neighbor much of the construction, including new science buildings, a power plant and expanded parking.