Regents approve UI plan for new student apartments

Vote also gives approval for the demolition of portions of the Hawkeye Court apartment complex

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AMES - State regents Wednesday approved a University of Iowa plan to enter into a public-private partnership for the construction of new student apartments to replace Hawkeye Court, despite one graduate student's concerns that it will result in much higher rents.

The state Board of Regents, at a meeting in Ames, approved the UI agreement with Dallas company Balfour Beatty Campus Solutions to provide apartment housing for students. The vote also gives approval for the demolition of portions of the 45-year-old Hawkeye Court apartment complex.

The university will enter into a 41-year ground lease with the company, which will be responsible for construction and operation of 270 apartment units with 444 beds. The new complex will serve primarily students with dependents, graduate students and international students, as Hawkeye Court currently does, officials said.

UI graduate student Brian Prugh lives at Hawkeye Court with his wife and two children. He pays $435 per month for a one-bedroom apartment -- 30 percent of the salary he earns from a half-time teaching appointment. He told the regents he worries the new apartments will mean much higher rent for students who can't afford it, as the company will charge "market rate."

"What needs to be replaced is affordable housing," he said. "The current plan may successfully replace the current buildings, but it does not replace the function these buildings serve within the community."

UI officials said it's unclear what the rents will be, but they said a new one-bedroom on a bus line but not directly near campus might run $750 per month in the Iowa City market.

It's unfortunate there will be an increase for students living at Hawkeye Court, officials said, but this partnership is the best option available to the UI. The university would likely spend more money than a private company if the UI were to build the new apartments. Offering new housing with rates comparable to the current affordable levels of Hawkeye Court "just can't be done," Vice President for Student Life Tom Rocklin said.

"These apartments are cheap because they need a ton of work and they're paid off, and we can't replicate that somewhere else," he said. "It's something that pains me but I think this is in fact our best option now."

The university and†Balfour Beatty Campus Solutions will establish a committee to review rental rates, officials said.

In other news from the regents meeting:

--- The board heard a presentation about proposed residence hall rates for 2013-14 at the UI, Iowa State University and the University of Northern Iowa. The residence departments are self-supporting and don't receive state funds. The room and board increases for next year would range from 2 percent to 6 percent, with the average rate at the UI costing 4.69 percent more. The regents will vote on final approval of the rates in April.

--- The board approved membership of the new nine-member transparency task force to be led by Regent Nicole Carroll. The group also includes Iowa legislators Sen. Jeff Danielson, D-Cedar Falls, and Rep. Peter Cownie, R-West Des Moines; Kathleen Richardson from the Governorís Iowa Public Information Board; representatives from the UI, ISU and UNI; and a public member, Iowa Hall of Pride Director Jack Lashier.

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