Student Senate debates cost of renovating ‘Big 5’ dorms

By Daniel Houston

A Baylor administrator announced plans are in the works to refurbish five of the university’s residence halls over a 15- to 20-year period at Thursday’s Student Senate meeting.

Dr. Kevin Jackson, vice president for student life, told the senators about the renovations to facilitate a conversation about enabling Wi-Fi Internet access in the dormitories.

The Senate voted to recommend outfitting the old dormitories with Wi-Fi after overriding a veto by the student body president that sought to kill the bill in light of concerns with the cost of such an effort.

“There is an initial planning process underway to assess the cost and feasibility of refurbishing what is commonly called the ‘Big Five’ residence halls: Collins, Penland, North Russell, South Russell, and Martin,” Jackson said in an interview after the meeting.

The renovations will likely include adding additional student lounge and study spaces, improving bathrooms, replacing floors and ceilings, and improving the technological capacities of the residence halls.

A plan for the renovations will likely be finalized in the next 12 months, according to Jackson.

He said one of the reasons for the extensive planning process is to assess whether the halls could be refurbished during breaks in the summer, or whether the university needs to trade off closing each of them down for an entire academic year.

“Closing a hall for a year is our least-preferred option,” Jackson said, “because when you have all that [residential] space offline, you want to make sure you have space for those students to live on campus.”

Zach Rogers, student body president and Houston senior, vetoed the Wi-Fi bill after speaking with administrators who informed him the cost of implementing wireless Internet coverage in the residence halls could cost $750,000 to $1.2 million.

The Senate narrowly succeeded in overriding his veto with the necessary two-thirds majority.

“I don’t disagree with the idea,” Rogers said. “I just don’t know if that [bill] was the best method by which to do it, but it’s done. I was just thinking that vetoing that legislation would allow us to do further research on the topic and make a more accurate proposal to the administration on the students’ opinions on Wi-Fi in the dorms.”

Michael Blair, freshman senator from Scottsdale, Ariz., defended the bill on the grounds it would identify Wi-Fi access as a top student priority in the residence hall renovations.

“This is something that we want for the students,” Blair said. “What it sounds like [Dr. Jackson] is saying, is we are already planning to spend this money [on refurbishing the halls]. So, basically, we want this to be a priority when you are refurbishing these dorms over the next 15 to 20 years.”

“They’re already going to spend the money, so we might as well get some Wi-Fi coverage out of it.”

In other business, the Senate voted unanimously to approve $25,000 in funding for this year’s musical entertainment at Diadeloso. The funding discussion was closed to the public.