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Why did The Evergreen State College delay this $42M student housing project?

A rendering of what the future first-year student dorms could look like.
A rendering of what the future first-year student dorms could look like. The Evergreen State College

A plan to replace some of the oldest dorms on The Evergreen State College’s Olympia campus has been delayed at least a year after concerns were raised about whether the project could be financed in the face of falling enrollment.

College President George Bridges made the recommendation during a special meeting of the board of trustees at the end of February. The board was set to take action on the project, which had been set to begin this spring.

The project will be revisited this fall and could begin in spring 2019, Evergreen spokesman Zach Powers said.

The first-year student housing project would replace the existing A-D dorms, which were built in the early 1970s, he said. A-dorm is one of the tallest buildings on campus.

The 375-bed, $42 million project would be financed by bonds and residential and dining services funds, but not state funds, Powers said.

Not only did the college president recommend a delay, but so did the college’s bonding company.

“Our bonding company also recommended the deferment because there is a chance that college revenue, which is tied to enrollment, might be insufficient to cover a new bond payment this coming year,” Powers said.

Enrollment currently is 3,637 students and that number is expected to be lower in the fall, he said.

Powers acknowledged that the controversy about race-related issues that exploded on campus in spring 2017 played a role in some students choosing to go elsewhere for college. But enrollment at Evergreen also has been trending lower since 2011, he said.

Forty-five percent of Evergreen’s undergraduate students transfer to the school from community college. But when the economy improves, community college enrollment also falls, because it is typically a destination for those who need a more affordable alternative before going to a four-year school.

Another factor: The college is still trying to determine how big the new dorm should be. The existing A-D dorms house 425 beds, more than is planned for the new dorm.

Students on campus Thursday shared a mix of opinions about whether the college needs the new housing.

Although B-dorm resident Moira Cameron of Spokane said she is leaving the school, it’s not because of the dorm.

“There’s nothing really wrong with them,” she said. “I don’t see a need.”

Gabriel Fallon of Tacoma, who also lives in B-dorm, and friend who declined to be named agreed the walls are too thin, the water pressure could be stronger and there’s not enough space to cook.

Eliza Ward of Utah lives in D-dorm and said she’s had issues with the plumbing and leaky sinks.

“They’re not beautiful and new, but it works,” she said about the existing dorms.

EMERGENCY RESERVES

Although the board of trustees didn’t take action on the first-year housing project, they did approve a motion for the president or his designee to spend as much as $1.3 million from the emergency reserve fund to pay expenses associated with the “events of spring 2017.”

Spokesman Powers said that includes the cost of holding graduation ceremonies at Cheney Stadium in Tacoma and legal settlements.

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