UTEP Calls New Student Housing Complex Part of Tier One Plan

By Daniel Perez

UTEP News Service

Officials from The University of Texas at El Paso discussed the initial phase of what could be “the most ambitious and most exciting” student housing complex in the almost 100-year history of the University during a media event June 13.

Greg McNicol, associate vice president for business affairs - facilities management, described the complex as the first phase of what could become a 3,000-bed community with food service, recreation components and other resources.The first phase of the new student housing community behind the Helen of Troy Softball Complex will include two residence halls, shown here, and a commons buidling.The first phase of the new student housing community behind the Helen of Troy Softball Complex will include two residence halls, shown here, and a commons buidling.

While much of the plan is conceptual, the first phase – two four-story residence halls that will accommodate 352 students and a commons building – should break ground in the next two weeks on a 6.2-acre plot of undeveloped land off Sun Bowl Drive that overlooks an arroyo behind the University’s Helen of Troy Softball Complex.

“The housing community is an essential building block for UTEP’s strategic plan to increase the number of students who reside on campus, attract competitive doctoral students and enhance student involvement in the UTEP community,” McNicol said.

He was joined at the media event by University President Diana Natalicio, UTEP Director of Residence Life Charlie Gibbens, Ed.D., and Kelly Pettigrew, owner of Tempe, Ariz.-based Sundt Construction, the project’s general contractor. They were surrounded by renderings, floor plans and an overview of what the project will look like when it is completed in time for the spring 2015 semester.

The 103,606-square-foot complex will have 83 units that have combinations of one-bedroom efficiencies and four- and six-bed suites. Each will have a small kitchen, living area and bathroom. The buildings will have elevators, lobbies, lounges, study rooms and laundry facilities. There also will be a single-story management building that will have a computer lab and conference room. Each building will use Bhutanese-style architecture.

From left, UTEP Director of Residence Life Charlie Gibbens, Ed.D., University President Diana Natalicio, and UTEP Associate Vice President for Business Services – Facilities Management Greg McNicol discuss the planned student housing complex June 13 in Miner Village’s Summit Hall. Photo by J.R. Hernandez / UTEP News ServiceFrom left, UTEP Director of Residence Life Charlie Gibbens, Ed.D., University President Diana Natalicio, and UTEP Associate Vice President for Business Services – Facilities Management Greg McNicol discuss the planned student housing complex June 13 in Miner Village’s Summit Hall. Photo by J.R. Hernandez / UTEP News Service“This complex will be state-of-the-art with a robust wireless network. It’ll be a place where students will be proud to live. They will be spectacular inside and out,” said Gibbens, who added that the complex will offer a safe and secure environment.

Above the aesthetics, he said numerous research studies have shown that college students who live on campus graduate at a higher and faster rate than those who do not. Some factors include positive peer pressure from neighbors and University personnel as well as ready access to academic resources.

Alexis Sein, who earned her master’s in linguistics from UTEP in May, agrees with the research. The El Paso native moved into Miner Village in 2004 as a freshman because of the convenience, but she quickly realized it helped her focus on academics.

“Living on campus helps you to grow up. You have to do more things for yourself such as cooking and cleaning. You have more responsibilities. You learn why you’re here,” said Sein, who received her bachelor’s and first master’s in English and American Literature in 2007 and 2010, respectively. “Over the years I’ve seen an increase in study groups throughout Summit Hall.”

As she prepares to leave for the Texas Tech University School of Law, she lauded University officials for their efforts to promote campus housing. She likes the look of the buildings, the location near the Student Recreation Center and the plan to expand into a small “smart growth” community.

President Natalicio said the $23 million project is part of the University’s Campus Transformation plan that will help it achieve its goal of becoming the first national research university with a Hispanic majority student demographic, which is important to the region’s success.

“We are announcing what I think is the most ambitious and most exciting student residence accommodations that the University has ever embarked on,” she said.

The complex will be served by the Miner Metro Shuttles and bike lanes are planned along Sun Bowl Drive to and from the main campus.

The project, which promises some spectacular views, was designed by El Paso-based Mijares-Mora Architects and KSQ Architects of Dallas. KSQ specializes in student housing design. Pettigrew, the Sundt owner, said the first few months will involve a lot of earth moving, but construction should begin in the fall.

The University operates two housing complexes that accommodate 636 students, and maintains a waiting list of about 200 students. The Campus Master Plan projects the University will provide 1,440 beds by 2015. Additional phases will be built as needed, UTEP officials said.