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July 21, 2006

Dorms' makeover nears finish

Employees are hard at work moving in furniture and completing the final touches for the new University Commons residence halls at the University of Louisiana at Monroe.

The two new suite halls — including a Starbucks Coffee — replaced Monroe and Slater halls on Northeast Drive and are already booked and set to open before fall classes start.

The residence halls also mark at least the temporary end of ULM's massive new housing upgrade construction project, which has already seen the opening of Bayou Village Apartments last summer and Bayou Suites in January. "Many students come to college now never having shared a room," said Tresea Buckhaults, ULM director of residential life. "When they get here, they don't want to start.

"It's a great campus and a great time for students to be coming to this campus."

The first University Commons on the western side is three floors and most resembles traditional college dormitories, with two students sharing one room, one bath and one phone line.

But Buckhaults points out they are still spacious and offer two high-speed Internet connections, a heating and cooling thermostat and two large mirrored closets. The building will house about 240 students, she said.

The adjacent University Commons will house 230 students in suites, which will house two students each, but every student will have a private bedroom with ceiling fans and mirrored closets. They will share a bathroom but have individual sinks and ample space for students to bring their own mini-fridges and microwaves.

The students in the second Commons will almost all be in the new ULM living-learning communities, designed to bring like-minded freshmen taking similar classes together so they make friends more quickly, said Patti Pate, assistant director of retention.

The building has four floors. The first will be occupied by the Starbucks, an ARAMARK convenience store, a student bank and office space. With the Starbucks, the University Commons may become a hot morning spot for many local residents outside of ULM, Buckhaults said.

As a senior at ULM, Erik Jones of Monroe has seen all of this new housing spring up around him the past few years, dramatically changing the face of the campus.

"It's cool what ULM's trying to do and make a lot more upscale housing," Jones said.

But some students are concerned about being priced out, he said.

Buckhaults said that is not necessarily true since many students will save money on campus because rent, utilities, phone service and Internet are all on one bill.

Housing in the first Commons will cost about $1,600 per student per semester with the private bedrooms in the second building costing $2,115.

Also ongoing this summer, the adjacent and outdated Breard, Cosper, Lemert and Harris residence halls have been torn down, in addition to the old infirmary building. At those sites, Bayou Park is scheduled to open next year with park space and, eventually, an amphitheater. There will be room for additional housing construction if needed for the future.

Elsewhere, construction of the modern new Student Union Building should be completed near the end of the year, at which point the Wig Wam cafeteria will be transformed into the Clarke M. Williams Student Success Center.

Plans are still in the works for a new parking garage facility to open in late 2007, known as the Intermodal Transit Facility. The project will be presented to the University of Louisiana System Board of Supervisors in August. The facility will house about 300 parking spaces and be financed from a $2.7 million federal grant.

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