Construction work continues Thursday

, February 16, 2017,

on Hilltopper Hall on College Heights Boulevard across from The Gatton Academy.

Early construction on a new residence hall at Western Kentucky University has begun, with the goal of offering students more personal living space with common areas for studying and socializing.

Brian Kuster, vice president for student affairs, said Hilltopper Hall will cater to students’ current expectations about on-campus living.

“They want their privacy in their bedroom, but they also want to have a space that they can interact with other students outside of their bedroom,” he said. “This will provide a lot of opportunities for that.”

The L-shaped residence hall is going up along College Heights Boulevard and will have 410 beds spread across five floors. It sits slightly off the road and will have a similar look to the neighboring Kentucky Building, sharing its white stone quoins, Kuster said.

Inside the building, each bedroom will have its own bathroom and each floor features common space including a closed study area, a lounge area and a large common kitchen. Kuster added there’s also a nook at the end of each hallway where students can gather.

“That’s really what we’re trying to create here with these areas is those intimate areas for students to ... study or just to have conversations outside their bedrooms,” Kuster said.

WKU’s move to upgrade its student housing is laid out in its 10-year master plan and represents a move to become more competitive with other state universities offering newer residence halls.

Jay Todd Richey, president of WKU’s student body, said he often hears the word “outdated” when students describe WKU’s residence halls. He said WKU often gets compared to the University of Kentucky and the University of Louisville when it comes to student housing.

“They’re significantly more updated than ours are,” he said, referring to UK.

Residence halls might not be a deal breaker for prospective students, Richey said, but it is a factor.

“I don’t think students make their decision to come to WKU based on residence halls,” Richey said. “I’m sure it is influential.”

Richey said updated residence halls could be an edge in attracting out-of-state and international students, whose higher tuition rate could be important with declining state funding in recent years.

The new residence hall will include a 24-hour dining facility on its ground floor, which Kuster said will be open to all students.

Along with glassed-in study areas and a gaming lounge, the ground floor will also feature what Kuster called a “maker’s room,” which is a large open room for students to work on projects.

“So if they’re doing some kind of art project or an engineering project ... it will give them a lot of work space to do that,” he said.

The building’s patio outside the dining facility will feature circular steps, Kuster said, giving an “amphitheater” feel to the surrounding green space.

“It gives some programmatic space for students to kind of hang out around the building or if they’re going to eat,” he said, adding that trees around the building will be preserved.

Currently, workers are doing foundation work for the project, which is expected to take 16 months to be complete by fall 2018. Regions is the bond holder for the project, Kuster said, adding the bonds will be sold by the 24th this month. From there, workers will finish the site work and put in a service drive between Rodes Harlin Hall and the Kentucky Building to bring in materials, Kuster said.

Once complete, the building would act as swing space for students displaced by the planned removal of Bemis Lawrence and Barnes Campbell halls.

Although the initial plan was to remove one dorm after the other, Kuster said officials are looking at removing both dorms at the same time to save money. The university wouldn’t lose housing capacity after building the first half of an H-shaped building, Kuster said.

The university is transforming its Southwest and Northeast halls, which sit across the street from the Honors College and International Center, into a living learning community for honors and international students.

Kuster said the project will take each building’s one-story lobby and add on two stories to create space for an “Iron Chef” style kitchen, a multi-purpose area, theater and study areas. It continues the trend of adding more common space for students, he said.

“We want to create more common space for students,” he said. “More opportunities for students to engage each other.”

Richey described the new residence hall as “a step in the right direction” for WKU.

— Follow education reporter Aaron Mudd on Twitter @BGDN_edbeat or visit bgdailynews.com.

Education reporter. Covers education and related issues, focusing primarily on the Bowling Green and Warren County public school districts and Western Kentucky University.