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Implications of Woodlawn Residential Commons

85bears4685bears46 596 replies35 threadsRegistered User Member
https://facilities.uchicago.edu/construction/woodlawn_residential_and_dining_commons/

I drove by the construction site yesterday and all the towers are up. Right now workers are putting up windows and fixing the interior. Woodlawn Residential Commons (WRC) will be ready for Class of 2024.

According to UChicago website, WRC will have 891 units and can accommodate 1,298 students. Using the ideal class size asserted by Dean Boyer (total College population of 7,000) , WRC can accommodate 74% of the incoming class.

Yet, will WRC be wholly first years? Highly unlikely. It will be a herculean effort to foster house culture if Residence Life just put 1,300 first years in a new megadorm. Most likely scenario will be a mix of mostly first years, a sizable number of second years and probably some third and fourth years. But then this setup will open the Pandora Box.

1. Where do you pull a whole bunch of second and third years from existing dorms without disrupting their original house culture?

2. How do you grow house culture in the mega dorm? Note Campus North is already big with 800 students. WRC is 50% bigger. In fact, WRC can sleep close to Campus North and Campus South combined together. There will be a lot of houses to establish new identities and cultivate their own culture..

3. We know Stony is closing. So I would assume the entire Stony population will be moved to WRC. That is a no brainer. But would Residence Life close I-House and move everyone to WRC? That is a distinct possibility. So for all parents that have kids assigned to I-House, it may as well be the swan song for undergrad at I-House. Your kids may be moving dorms en masse next year. By 2020-2021 school year I-House will then revert back to its original role to accommodate international scholars and grad students.

4. Another possibility as suggested by @JBStillFlying is to let grad students (to be more specific, Law School students) to live in WRC. They will appreciate the short commute to Law School. But it may upset Dean Boyer's cherished plan to put all the College students in dorm.

All in all the arrival of WRC will completely upend the current dorm culture at the College. Probably it will take 2 to 3 years to sort things out.

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Replies to: Implications of Woodlawn Residential Commons

  • DunBoyerDunBoyer 314 replies7 threadsRegistered User Member
    I think the writing is on the wall for I-House.

    For a dorm this size to have any sort of culture, cohesion, or critical mass of reasonable adults, you want maybe 600-700 returning students - and even that's pushing it.
    Stony (74 students a few years back, maybe 80-90 with more recent crowding) and Vue (somewhere between 80 and 120, I don't know exactly) don't get you there. And that's just in terms of units replaced. When you move houses, you lose a bunch of folks; moving the satellites to North led a lot of second-years and up to move out, killing most of their house culture. So those two dorms give you maaaaybe 100-150 returning students, even with students staying in housing for 2 years from now on.

    I-House's 400-odd residents don't get you all the way there, but it's hard to see how else you'd close the gap.

    Grad students in WRC seem unlikely; most of them can find housing in Hyde Park at much better rates than Housing, and filling WRC rooms below Housing rates means losing money since the University doesn't own the buildings.
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  • JBStillFlyingJBStillFlying 6642 replies22 threadsRegistered User Senior Member
    edited August 17
    What about the possibility of moving I-House, Stoney, BJ and Snitch over to WRC and either repurposing all those (former) old dorms or moving them to grad student housing? (Edit to add Vue53 with its 100 or so). @DunBoyer is that even a possibility or does the College not dare? Boyer et al seem to want a cohesive, re-booted College housing system with newer dorms to compliment the plan. Why else make WRC so big?

    Also, predicting that one of the new houses at WRC will be named Nondorf.
    edited August 17
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  • PepperJoPepperJo 285 replies10 threadsRegistered User Junior Member
    What if they mandated 3 years of living on campus? yikes...
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  • JBStillFlyingJBStillFlying 6642 replies22 threadsRegistered User Senior Member
    @PepperJo you mandate three, you might as well try to mandate all four. And they might have more luck herding cats. This is one area where UChicago is NOT like Harvard. The students have always lived off campus. It's part of the ethos of the place.
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  • DunBoyerDunBoyer 314 replies7 threadsRegistered User Member
    What about the possibility of moving I-House, Stoney, BJ and Snitch over to WRC and either repurposing all those (former) old dorms or moving them to grad student housing? (Edit to add Vue53 with its 100 or so). @DunBoyer is that even a possibility or does the College not dare? Boyer et al seem to want a cohesive, re-booted College housing system with newer dorms to compliment the plan. Why else make WRC so big?
    For one thing, BJ and Snitchcock would riot. If they closed down BJ, Snitchcock, and I-House, then the oldest dorm would be...Max P (2001). You'd lose a lot of the muscle memory behind stuff like Scav. You'd royally tick off a bunch of alums. Current residents would move out, which is the opposite of what Housing's going for in the long run.

    Boyer et al. may not feel any special allegiance to the University of the last 50+ years, but I like to think they know better than to sever every tie there is to UChicago's past. They're extremely cold-blooded about this stuff; if you kill B-J, Snitchcock, Scav, and everything in that vein, you start to run out of traditions for the tour groups and brochures. And Zimmer, Boyer, et al's long-term project of turning us into Yale West certainly involves hanging onto a few of those traditions. Scav, for instance, is not some sacred cow from the 30s; the first Hunt was in the mid-80s, and the University's been all too happy to boost Scav and work the Hunt into its marketing.

    In more mundane evidence B-J's here to stay, the University's done some serious renovations on B-J in the last few years: new bathrooms, ivy removal, a redone courtyard, and this summer's reconstruction of the west gate and front desk. That wouldn't make much sense if they planned to shutter the dorm and fill B-J with offices or whatnot. What's an office building going to do with a bunch of communal showers?
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  • 85bears4685bears46 596 replies35 threadsRegistered User Member
    I think there will be a Gates House before a Nondorf House. But of course it is far more likely to have a Gates Hall for CS than a Gates megadorm.

    BJ and Snitchcock are too iconic to close. In the remote possibility that Bernie will be elected POTUS next year, should UChicago News publish a headline: "Sorry Mr. President, we just close down your old college hangout." ? ;)

    And Snitchcock with its famed Scav tradition and ultra nerdy weirdo image are going to have all their traditionalist defenders rise up in protest if Zimmer announces their closure.

    My guess will be current (2019-2020) I-House, Stony and Vue53 residents and a whole bunch of Class of 2024 making up the WRC population next year. I can see Residence Life using financial incentives to lure some third and fourth years back to dorm in WRC.

    No matter how you cut it, it will be messy house culture at WRC next year.
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  • 85bears4685bears46 596 replies35 threadsRegistered User Member
    Dissecting the numbers further: 891 units accommodating 1289 students implies that around half of the rooms are singles. Will that be considered as a high ratio as compared to newer dorms like Campus North and South?
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  • DunBoyerDunBoyer 314 replies7 threadsRegistered User Member
    85bears46 wrote: »
    Dissecting the numbers further: 891 units accommodating 1289 students implies that around half of the rooms are singles. Will that be considered as a high ratio as compared to newer dorms like Campus North and South?
    Seems high for North/South, would be low for BJ/Snitchcock (and maybe I-House, not as familiar with the setup there). I get the sense WRC is meant to be a middle option of sorts - a megadorm that doesn't feel like a megadorm (once the initial demographic shocks are worked out, the inevitable SNAFUs from building it in two years are corrected, and some sort of house culture forms). Maybe even the "default" housing experience for UChicago - both given its size, and the fact it's something of a median between other options.
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  • DunBoyerDunBoyer 314 replies7 threadsRegistered User Member
    85bears46 wrote: »
    My guess will be current (2019-2020) I-House, Stony and Vue53 residents and a whole bunch of Class of 2024 making up the WRC population next year. I can see Residence Life using financial incentives to lure some third and fourth years back to dorm in WRC.

    No matter how you cut it, it will be messy house culture at WRC next year.

    That sounds about right. Getting to 50% upperclass students in WRC is very tough in the short run. In the long run, Housing probably wants to pare back the doubles converted to triples or suites/apartments holding 5+ people. You can't do that right away, because people who've lived in a house will want to stay with that house. But you can, say, redirect more of your first-years to Woodlawn and lower house sizes elsewhere back to their levels before the housing crunch of the last few years.

    So over time, you get more upperclass students in WRC (as the glut of upperclass students living in other dorms now starts to move out/graduate) and WRC fills up more as you relieve overcrowding in existing dorms.
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  • JBStillFlyingJBStillFlying 6642 replies22 threadsRegistered User Senior Member
    edited August 17
    @DunBoyer - totally agree that BJ looks like it's going to be remain a res. hall for the time being. But what about a 1L res hall? And a first-year med. res hall? Perfect location for both. And at one point the university was looking for B-school housing (which was the basis of the I-House uprising). Are those needs now moot, or have they just gone unmet to date?

    As for the rest of your points, totally agree. Snitch and BJ were built either prior to, or at the start of, the Hutchins era (which seemed to have kicked off all the issues from mid-20th century to the arrival of Zimmer LOL). They were standing back in the days when the college had enrollments that were closer to now. So it would be a travesty to replace either with WRC. But I can see them attempting to if the perceived long-term benefits outweighed the costs. UChicago is only 127 years old and settling down (finally) to plan a cohesive college housing system for the long-long term might mean they decide to sacrifice a couple of oddball older college dorms (which will be repurposed for other uses - graduate housing, academic space, etc). If you think about it, BJ and Snitch will shortly be in the minority once Woodlawn is up. They don't appear to fit with the plan.

    Edit to add: BJ was a law dorm back in the 60's. as well as a college dorm. IIRC from what others have told me, the east side of the building was law students. They even had a walkway connecting the back of BJ to the law buildings, and you can still see it when you look at the aerial on Maps.
    edited August 17
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  • JBStillFlyingJBStillFlying 6642 replies22 threadsRegistered User Senior Member
    "I think there will be a Gates House before a Nondorf House. But of course it is far more likely to have a Gates Hall for CS than a Gates megadorm."

    - Have the Gates been prominent in influencing the direction of the College so far? Or is Bill Gates on the Board? If not, don't see this happening on the residential side. But basing the house name trend from what happened in North (Yuen, Boyer, Trott, etc.) I can see a Zimmer and a Nondorf being added to the house names at WRC. After all, isn't it because of Nondorf that there's a WRC in the first place? :wink:
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  • 85bears4685bears46 596 replies35 threadsRegistered User Member
    edited August 17
    @JBStillFlying #10

    After last few years of College dorm crunch, WRC will definitely reverse the trend. I would hazard the guess that in the next couple of years, the biggest task facing Residence Life is no longer how to find space for incoming students but actually how to retain third year and fourth year students in dorm.

    I don't mean to disparage anyone's character but it is usually true no one will give up his/her own turf after expansion unless (s)he has to. WRC is built as a College dorm and so it will stay as a College dorm. By the same token it is true for BJ and Snitchcock. Dean Boyer's plan has always been to expand the number of College students in dorm. I doubt that he will give up BJ and Snitchcock.

    For the record, I always find it odd that Snitchcock actually exists and persists as an undergrad dorm. Given their prime location, they should be reconfigured back to classrooms or labs. But I never stayed there and I shall guess as @DunBoyer said the current and former residents there would riot if Zimmer shut them down.



    edited August 17
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  • DunBoyerDunBoyer 314 replies7 threadsRegistered User Member
    edited August 17
    So it would be a travesty to replace either with WRC. But I can see them attempting to if the perceived long-term benefits outweighed the costs. UChicago is only 127 years old and settling down (finally) to plan a cohesive college housing system for the long-long term might mean they decide to sacrifice a couple of oddball older college dorms (which will be repurposed for other uses - graduate housing, academic space, etc). If you think about it, BJ and Snitch will shortly be in the minority once Woodlawn is up. They don't appear to fit with the plan.
    Not sure we should expect recent trends to continue forever. The common thread of recent construction is increasing the variety of options students have - with more apartments in North, and an emphasis on singles and apartments rather than doubles (compared to South/North) in Woodlawn. If Snitchcock/B-J (mostly singles, strong culture) are the thesis and Max/South (very few singles, very little community) are the antithesis, maybe your synthesis looks a lot like North/Woodlawn: a mix of singles, doubles, and apartments, and probably more community than South/Max ten years from now (since singles lend themselves to more people in common areas, and apartments are big enough for real communal gatherings). We're moving closer to the South/North direction not because the end goal is having 3-4 carbon copies of North, but because we started out with B-J/Snitchcock/the satellites as the norm.

    So in ten years, I think North/Woodlawn are the median of what Housing offers, but you want to give students options. Having South on the one end, and B-J/Snitchcock on the other, does that. I think that fact, and the empire-building angle that @85bears46 raises, will probably keep the old dorms open for a while still.
    edited August 17
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  • JBStillFlyingJBStillFlying 6642 replies22 threadsRegistered User Senior Member
    edited August 17
    Interesting speculations. As the parent of both a BJ ex-pat and an incoming, I hope you two are correct and that they keep BJ and Snitch around for the College. Guess I'm thinking that Boyer would be instrumental in any consolidation of the undergraduate population within new dorms. If, for instance, the university built him a nice new mega dorm in exchange for giving up current buildings for other uses . . . But, as has been pointed out or at least implied, the 4 new dorms, incuding WRC, would house 3500 or so, which is perhaps a smidgeon above the current 7 plus the Vue53 overflow. So why give up 500-550 beds when your goal is to expand the number and length of time in housing. Better to allow the preference for residential housing to grow organically by offering a variety of options. And there are still lots of UChicago types who opt for old dorms.

    Agree that writing is on the wall for I-House, because it would be the only dorm with no easy access to dining. Even if the house table is moved to Woodlawn Dining, that's still nearly .5 miles away walking. And it would truly be isolated at that point; away from the North/South choice sets (each cluster of three consisting of one old and two new dorms). So yeah, it's probably going. Will there be another uprising, or will Booth finally be able to take over the space?

    Edit/addendum: oops. To avoid confusion, my reference to North/South refers to location on campus (North cluster is North/Max/Snitch, South cluster is RGG/WRC/BJ), rather than actual dorm names.
    edited August 17
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  • DunBoyerDunBoyer 314 replies7 threadsRegistered User Member
    edited August 17
    If we keep building post-Woodlawn, I actually think Max could be the next domino to fall. I'm told Max is slowly sinking into the ground, and the building itself has some issues above ground. At one point, half of Max had a lovely sewage smell, and in other ways the construction isn't super high-quality. All of this is getting more apparent as the building ages.

    734 units is a lot of dorm to scrap all at once, but maybe Housing takes advantage of the slack created by 1300 new spaces in Woodlawn to slowly phase out Max. For instance, you could replace one of the buildings each year (on a three-year cycle) or one every two years if the University wants to space the transition (and associated costs) out some.

    This lets you add some units, moving us closer to the University's goal of having nearly everyone stay on campus for four years. It gives you a chance to solve the structural issues. It lets you replace Max with a more modern, higher-quality building - in keeping with the people we're trying to target. The University's pretty heavily leveraged already, so this would probably happen 5-10 years down the road - maybe when we get another recession and interest rates drop into the cellar. But from where I stand (on the outside of the Levi Hall panopticon, with no particular knowledge or expertise or inside sources) it's not a crazy idea
    edited August 17
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  • 85bears4685bears46 596 replies35 threadsRegistered User Member
    As a GSB graduate, I think it is a TRAVESTY that over the last 3 decades the University has NOT built a single dorm for grad students. All the shiny new dorms went to the College. What about us, the professional schools students? In fact, more than 1/3 of the University trustees are MBA's. Together with the JD's, professional school graduates dominate the Board of Trustee. And yet they green lighted all the money spent on College dorms.

    Ok, my ranting is over :) . I agree with @DunBoyer that BJ and Snitchcock will be kept open for a long time to provide varieties to the more modern, big boxy and glassy dorms. The ones 2 sigma away from the mean U of C student quirkiness go to BJ. The ones that are 5 sigma away go to Snitchcock. Everyone will be happy.

    I-House can be reborn as a professional school dorm, although it is equally likely that it may stay as an undergrad dorm. It will be a tricky operation (and has major chance of being a FUBAR) though. Residence Life can move 300 of the 400+ current residents to WRC. Those 300 will help WRC cultivate their new houses. The remaining 100 will be the ONES to repopulate Zion and regenerate the I-House houses again. Of course, students at I-House this year may not want to play along in this game and then everything will go to hell in terms of dorm culture.

    I find it hard to believe College/Dean Boyer wants to give up the 400+ beds at I-House. There is no plan to build any more megadorm soon. Whatever final number of beds after WRC is completed will likely stay the same for the next decade. So one way or another Residence Life has to make I-House to replicate its current houses again even though a significant of current students have to migrate to WRC to establish new houses over there.

    Of course in five years everything should work out. But it will be a chaotic next couple of years at WRC and I-House.
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  • DunBoyerDunBoyer 314 replies7 threadsRegistered User Member
    edited August 17
    85bears46 wrote: »
    I-House can be reborn as a professional school dorm, although it is equally likely that it may stay as an undergrad dorm. It will be a tricky operation (and has major chance of being a FUBAR) though. Residence Life can move 300 of the 400+ current residents to WRC. Those 300 will help WRC cultivate their new houses. The remaining 100 will be the ONES to repopulate Zion and regenerate the I-House houses again. Of course, students at I-House this year may not want to play along in this game and then everything will go to hell in terms of dorm culture.

    I find it hard to believe College/Dean Boyer wants to give up the 400+ beds at I-House. There is no plan to build any more megadorm soon. Whatever final number of beds after WRC is completed will likely stay the same for the next decade. So one way or another Residence Life has to make I-House to replicate its current houses again even though a significant of current students have to migrate to WRC to establish new houses over there.

    Of course in five years everything should work out. But it will be a chaotic next couple of years at WRC and I-House.
    Talk about shock therapy! It's not out of the question, but that would be a very delicate move. And you're right that it could end up FUBAR in a number of ways.

    Some share of I-House's 400-odd residents will be graduating, moving off-campus, etc. The number's likely higher the year you make this switch. So those things combined could easily take a 200,-student bite out of I-House's population (probably around 450 now with some singles becoming doubles and doubles becoming triples). They're easily replaced with first-years, but the objective here isn't just to fill rooms; it's to have a reasonable number of upperclass students in each house.

    Woodlawn will have 11 houses, and I-House has 5. So you're spreading about 250 upperclass students across 16 houses. At best, you get another 100 from Stony/Vue. 350 upperclass students means about 22 per house - which would be very low for I-House (where the average house is 90-100) and barely noticeable in Woodlawn (where houses will be just under 120). A typical house, for reference, is more than 50% returning students. Move the entirety of I-House over to Woodlawn, and the numbers are more doable; 350 people across 11 houses means 30-odd students per house, which is still low but very different from 22.

    The greatest issue is actually the logistics of splitting I-House houses up between residents staying in I-House and people moving to Woodlawn. It's hard to see how you could do this in a procedurally fair manner that also achieves Housing's goals. Very few students will move to Woodlawn by choice. Offering financial incentives gives you a big wealth/background imbalance between those staying and those who move. Letting some people choose but not others (e.g. giving priority to rising fourth-years, like the house lottery does) creates another weird cohort (in addition to the glut of first-years), where most of the fourth-years end up in one destination, many second/third-years end up in another, and the number of returning students in a house fluctuates wildly as a result. Randomizing things leads to a lot of unhappy people. You'd also have to split up some RA pairs, or split some residents up from their current RAs entirely. I could go on. This might be one reason the College has moved and renamed existing houses in the past. Moving/renaming houses wasn't popular, but any way of splitting a house up would be far more traumatic for the community as a whole. More importantly, the resentments this would produce could linger for a while - affecting giving from graduating fourth-years, and thus the all-important rankings. So my sense is that the administration will avoid this if at all possible.
    edited August 17
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  • JBStillFlyingJBStillFlying 6642 replies22 threadsRegistered User Senior Member
    Can't see how I-House can possibly be considered "acceptable" for the College without its own dining hall. But then, the College hasn't made any announcements about it going away, so who knows. But it would - understandably this time - be considered as isolated from the rest of the College.

    Once upon a time around the turn of the (21st) Century, the university tried to convert I-House to B-school housing, but the ensuing uproar overcame that plan. In Res-Hall years, this was all a long time ago; since that time the College has demolished Woodward Court and Pierce and built Max, North, South, and now Woodlawn. And at least doubled its size.
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  • JBStillFlyingJBStillFlying 6642 replies22 threadsRegistered User Senior Member
    @DunBoyer at #17, why can't the College just close I-House and move the houses over to WRC intact with same name etc? Does that not work? When the the two houses came over to I-House from Pierce, and then when Breckinridge moved over to I-House from next door, did that not work?
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  • DunBoyerDunBoyer 314 replies7 threadsRegistered User Member
    @DunBoyer at #17, why can't the College just close I-House and move the houses over to WRC intact with same name etc? Does that not work? When the the two houses came over to I-House from Pierce, and then when Breckinridge moved over to I-House from next door, did that not work?

    Yes - I'm saying that would be an issue with any plan to split I-House residents between I-House and Woodlawn. If you move half the houses and keep the other half in I-House, you don't solve the problem; you just end up with brand-new houses in both dorms that have zero upperclass students, instead of a bunch of these houses in one dorm. If you try to split individual houses up between the two dorms, you get the issues I outlined above.

    This is why the most likely outcome (IMHO) is the College moving I-House houses to Woodlawn and doing something else with the building, as you suggest. Though that still raises a question. I-House is five houses, Stony is one, Vue is one, for a total of seven. Woodlawn's supposed to have eleven. So where do the other four houses come from? No other dorm has exactly four houses, so I'm having trouble thinking of an obvious answer.

    Maybe you could move some houses from North, South, and Max, and divvy up their rooms between other houses in the megadorms? But that would run counter to the house system as the university envisions it - producing houses way over 100. Which creates a whole bunch of challenges in building and maintaining community, or even some semblance of order.
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