Education

Not just a commuter campus anymore: UW Tacoma opens first student-only dorm

Move-in day Milestone: UWT students at Court 17 Apartments

University of Washington Tacoma students at Court 17 Apartments will be the first to live in a building fully owned by the UWT.
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University of Washington Tacoma students at Court 17 Apartments will be the first to live in a building fully owned by the UWT.

Students piled into the foyer holding plastic bags of their belongings, chatting while loading comforters and clothes into moving carts. Parents tried to be helpful, yet unobtrusive, as they carried their grown children’s suitcases up the stairs or into the elevator.

It was a typical college move-in day, except for one thing: It was happening at the University of Washington Tacoma, which for the past 26 years has catered primarily to commuter students who drive or take the bus to classes each day.

Now, officials say that’s starting to change with the newest addition to UWT: student dorms.

The university recently spent $22.3 million to purchase the Court 17 Apartments, located on the same block as the new University Y Student Center at 17th Street and Market Street.

The building will serve as a dormitory for 290 students, roughly doubling UWT’s amount of on-campus housing.

There’s an excitement across campus to see there’s a community that’s really here now — and not just getting out of their cars, going to class and going back home.

Ed Mirecki, UW Tacoma’s dean of student engagement

University officials expect more students living downtown to help boost the sense of community on campus, while also attracting applicants who want a more traditional college experience living away from their parents.

“There’s an excitement across campus to see there’s a community that’s really here now — and not just getting out of their cars, going to class and going back home,” said Ed Mirecki, UWT’s dean of student engagement.

City officials are counting on that energy to carry over into the surrounding blocks of downtown Tacoma.

Ricardo Noguera, Tacoma’s community and economic development director, said the new dorms are the latest step in a downtown revitalization effort UWT jumpstarted in 1997, when the school moved into a collection of previously rundown Tacoma warehouses.

More than 4,800 students are enrolled at UWT this fall, a fourfold increase from the university’s enrollment in 1997.

“With more students being in that area, it’s going to attract more restaurants and retailers,” Noguera said.

LIVING AT COURT 17

Prior to this year, UWT rented two stories of the five-floor apartment building, but non-student residents lived on the other floors.

Now, with students occupying the entire building, Court 17 has taken on the true feeling of a dorm, with regular programs held at the facility and students gathering spontaneously in common areas, Mirecki said.

Since students began moving in Monday, the building’s patio has hosted organized events like a back-to-school barbecue, but also less formal gatherings, like when about 50 students migrated outside Wednesday for an impromptu game of “Cards Against Humanity.” (The game, which markets itself as “a card game for horrible people,” asks players to fill-in-the-blanks using cards from their hands, with the goal of making the funniest combination.)

The building holds two-bedroom, two-bathroom apartments that are shared by four students, as well as some studios and one-bedrooms that two students share. Each unit includes a full kitchen as well as a washer and dryer.

$732Monthly cost to share a 2-bedroom, 2-bathroom apartment with three other students at Court 17

$2,196Quarterly cost for the same room

For UWT undergraduates, sharing a two-bedroom apartment with three other students costs $732 a month, or $2,196 a quarter. Sharing a one-bedroom with another student costs $959 per month, or $2,877 per quarter, while two students sharing a studio each pay $846 per month or $2,538 quarterly.

Those rates are slightly more expensive than what students pay to live in double-rooms at the older residence halls on the north side of UW Seattle, but cheaper than the rates for UW Seattle’s newer dorms on the west side of campus. A double room at the newer UW Seattle dorms costs $2,994 per quarter, and the facilities don’t include a private kitchen.

None of those prices include a meal plan. Court 17 won’t have a traditional dining hall. But the university plans to open a cafe on the building’s ground level in November that will be accessible to the public, officials said.

WHY STUDENTS CHOSE IT

At the building’s welcome barbecue Monday, several incoming freshmen said they were attracted to the UW Tacoma because of its small class sizes, but that they also wanted the chance to live on campus that comes with going to a larger university.

Court 17 allows for that, said Lexi Powers, a 19-year-old freshman from Orting.

“I wanted that community and being away at college — I wanted that college experience,” said Powers, who shares one of the two-bedroom apartments at Court 17 with three other students. “I think I’m just excited to make friendships, not only with the people here but the people in the area.”

One of Powers’ three roommates, Aeriel Dimapelis, said she expects she’ll be more involved with events and activities on campus as a result of living at Court 17 instead of with her parents in Spanaway.

I wanted that community and being away at college — I wanted that college experience.

Lexi Powers, incoming UWT freshman from Orting who lives at Court 17

“I’ll be more connected to the school itself, rather than having to go home every day after class,” said Dimapelis, 18.

For others, the on-campus housing makes it possible for them to attend UWT even if they hail from outside the Puget Sound.

That was the case for Paola Soto, an 18-year-old freshman from Prosser, in Central Washington. After moving far away from home, the chance to live with other students in the same situation was a big draw, said Soto, who is rooming with Powers and Dimapelis.

“If I had lived somewhere else, I wouldn’t be able to meet as many people,” said Soto, who is interested in studying criminal justice.

While students can pay to park below the building, Powers doesn’t have a car on campus. Neither does her fourth roommate, Mayra Alvarado, another 19-year-old freshman.

Even if she had a car, Alvarado said she wouldn’t want to drive to school due to traffic and the cost of gas.

“I live in Kent, and the traffic to get here is terrible,” Alvarado said.

If I had lived somewhere else, I wouldn’t be able to meet as many people.

Paola Soto, UWT freshman from Prosser who moved into the Court 17 Apartments

Now that she’ll be living in downtown Tacoma, Alvarado said she’s excited to “kind of explore the town, figure out where things are.”

All of the students said living on their own is a major milestone and that they expect it will help them grow in ways beyond what they will learn academically.

“It’s kind of time to start being independent,” Alvarado said.

“To start being an adult,” Soto chimed in.

“Just time to find yourself, I guess,” Powers said.

THE FUTURE OF UWT HOUSING

Demand for student housing at UWT goes far beyond what Court 17 can provide, according to a recent analysis commissioned by the university.

That study, prepared in January, found that there is a net demand for on-campus housing for 940 students.

That’s partly why rooms are Court 17 are mostly full going into fall quarter, even though UWT officials didn’t finalize the building purchase until late July, said Mirecki, the dean of student engagement.

4,800Approximate number of students enrolled at UW Tacoma this fall

290The number of students who can now live on campus in student dorms

940Estimated demand for student housing beds at UW Tacoma

Each room at Court 17 is currently occupied, though a few rooms have space for female roommates. As of Friday, 262 of 290 beds had been claimed, Mirecki said.

A handful of male students are already on a wait list to get in, and officials expect there will soon be a wait list for female students, too.

University officials aren’t sure yet whether they will build more on-campus housing. They hope more privately developed buildings popping up near the campus will help accommodate students who want to live near the school in the near future, Mirecki said.

“We know the 290 beds don’t begin to meet demand,” Mirecki said. “That’s why we’re excited about some of these other developments downtown.”

“Do we look at potentially building another building in the years to come? We’re just starting those conversations,” he said.

Melissa Santos: 360-357-0209, @melissasantos1

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