University of Iowa student apartments getting rebuilt

College developing new complex at Hawkeye Court site

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IOWA CITY — For former University of Iowa student Doug Tuetken, the Hawkeye Court apartments are tied to memories of playing disc golf with friends, putting Styrofoam along the walls to improve insulation and the birth of his first daughter.

But what brought him and his wife Sara to the university-owned apartment complex in 1979 was the apartment’s affordability, and UI officials said they hope to keep the rent of the soon-to-be-rebuilt apartments down so more families like the Tuetkens will be able to live there for years to come.

“I think the most important thing to us is keeping the rates low for the tenants,” said Von Stange, the UI’s director of housing. “Students have come here, we don’t want to put them in any more debt than they need to be. We’re hoping through this arrangement we will be able to keep rates as low as possible so students can afford to live there.”

The decision to tear down and rebuild the apartments — which typically attract graduate students, international students and students with families —  came after the Board of Regents decided to raze part of Hawkeye Court damaged in the Floods of 2008. University officials then decided the remaining units, built in 1968, were outdated and in desperate need of a face-lift in order to improve curb appeal and deal with issues with old insulation, plumbing and a lack of air conditioning. There are currently 427 one- and two-bedroom apartments at the complex, which are 90 percent occupied during the academic year.

Doug True, UI vice president for finance and operations, said university officials have hired Balfour Beatty Campus Solutions LLC of Dallas to take on the project. He said the university is currently working to finalize a land lease and operating agreement with the firm, and hopes to complete the negotiations in January so the documents can be presented to the Board of Regents at their February meeting.

Following an agreement, the group will build and manage 252 apartment units to replace the Hawkeye Court apartments.

“(The apartments are) cement block construction,” True said. “They’re hard and sturdy, but expectations are beyond that at this point, so it’s a matter of not just replacing obsolete apartments, but also making sure we’re not building them as they were designed in 1968, but as they’re needed in 2020 and 2030 to make sure they serve students better going forward.”

True said the university also will work to improve the look of the buildings, while maintaining open areas for gardens and places for children to play. He said the new structures will align with the UI’s sustainability standards to be more energy-efficient and be built higher up so they are not threatened by floodwaters.

Tenant worries

But some students are concerned about the transition, and whether they will be able to find other, equally affordable options.

Ruben Llamas, a third-year Ph.D. student in electrical and computer engineering at the UI, said he likes the layout of the current Hawkeye Court apartments, adding he is most concerned with finding another place to live during construction that is as affordable as the apartments at Hawkeye Court.

“I know, they say these are 50 years old but I think they look pretty good,” Llamas said, adding he had to wait a year before getting an affordable apartment at Hawkeye Court. “My concern is how we’re going to find another place, we have hundreds of apartments here, how are we all going to find apartments when we move out?”

Rental rates for the 2011-2012 school year show a two-bedroom unit at Hawkeye Court rents for $480 to students and $530 for faculty and staff. That rate is considerably lower than rates for two-bedroom apartments posted by other local rental agencies, which list many two-bedroom units at $850 and higher. A two-bedroom unit at Hawkeye Drive is listed to cost $600 for students, and $650 for faculty and staff.

Stange said current tenants were notified, roughly one month ago, that some of the apartments will be closing and their leases will expire. He said the university plans to work closely with those students to find other affordable housing options, which may include keeping some parts of Hawkeye Court open to tenants while construction is going on in a different area and offering Hawkeye Drive apartments to those who will be displaced.

Tuetken, who lived at Hawkeye Court while studying physical education and American history at the UI from 1979 to 1981, said affordability was exactly what drew him and his wife to the apartments on the west side of campus when they began building their lives together.

“The cost of rent was much lower out there, so it was perfect for us because we were paying for our own education at the time,” said Tuetken, who now works as a superintendent in the Maquoketa Community School District. “I was working 30 to 35 hours on top of taking 18 hours of classes, so we needed something low-cost and the cambus ran out there.”

If everything goes according to plan, Stange said construction of the new apartments will likely begin in summer 2013 to have the building complete and ready for tenants by fall 2014. If the first round of construction is successful at Hawkeye Court, True said the firm may also work on an agreement to replace the apartments along Hawkeye Drive.

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