Butler construction project targeted for fall '06 finish: Student housing, rec center to join historic campus

November 7, 2005

The landscape around Butler University's historic Hinkle Fieldhouse is undergoing dramatic changes not seen on the private campus since the early 1960s.

Construction began in May on a $50 million project to build a student recreation center west of the 77-year-old arena and student housing to the east. Both should be finished by the start of the fall semester in August.

The construction projects are the largest since Irwin Library, Clowes Memorial Hall and Lilly Hall were built in 1961, said Michael Gardner, Butler's vice president for operations.

A growing student population-from 2,300 in 1990 to 3,800 today-prompted the need for another on-campus housing option, Gardner said. The new residential units, which will accommodate 500 students, are hardly dormitory-style living, however. The seven structures will contain a total of 125 four-bedroom apartments.

The village-style development, which borders Boulevard Place at the northeast edge of the campus, will include a game room, convenience store, computer lab and laundry facilities. Each student also will receive one parking space.

A study performed by Washington, D.C.-based consultant Brailsford & Dunlavey supporting the need for additional housing seems to be on target. The university began renting the apartments Oct. 24. At the end of the first day, 262 upperclassmen had signed 10-month contracts to pay $6,950 each in rent.

Freshmen and sophomores must live in dormitories or Greek housing. The increase in student population is forcing juniors and seniors to live off campus. But nearby apartment dwellings are limited to a few options, Gardner said.

Placing the apartments at the eastern edge of Butler's property will give students an off-campus feel, said Rob Proctor, principal of Ratio Architects Inc., designer of the project.

"We certainly didn't want to do a tower, or one enormous dormitory," Proctor said. "The idea was to break this into a village of buildings so it would fit with the context of the neighborhood."

Columbus, Ohio-based architectural firm Moody Nolan Inc., a minority-owned firm that has a local office and specializes in sports and recreation facilities, is assisting Ratio. Locally based contractor Shiel Sexton Co. Inc. is the construction manager.

The Butler-Tarkington Neighborhood Association endorsed the apartment project amid some concern that it would deflate property values, overload the combined-sewer overflow system, and contribute to flooding problems. The apartments sit on the slope between the higher 49th Street and the lower 52nd Street.

Gardner said storm water will run into basins along 52nd Street that feed into Holcomb Gardens near the Central Canal and naturally drain back into the soil, taking a significant load off the area storm sewers.

The neighborhood association had prodded Butler for years to build more on-campus housing to ease the flow of students into the neighborhood, said Elsa Iverson, president of the association. The aim is to create more of a balance between students and residents.

The association's task force that formed during Butler's exploration into the housing issue will remain active for a year after the project is completed to ensure all the neighborhood's concerns are addressed. Most members so far are satisfied with the university's efforts, Iverson said.

"We're pleased Butler has gone ahead and taken this project on," she said. "I think people have found Butler responsive and have found them quite willing to work with the task force."

Near the housing project, dirt was added to the Butler Bowl football stadium to raise it 8 feet and widen it enough to accommodate a soccer field. Artificial turf also was installed.

The construction project ended the popular tradition of sledding down Butler Hill, which was leveled to make room for the student apartments.

On the west side of Hinkle, the construction of the student recreation center necessitated the relocation of the four tennis courts to where the old football practice field sat near 52nd Street.

The 90,000-square-foot facility will include two basketball courts, a six-lane lap pool and a running track. A 6,000-square-foot fitness and weightlifting area, a dry sauna, a 10-person hot tub, a juice bar, and health and counseling centers also are planned.

Butler never has had a recreation center dedicated to the entire student body. Facilities at Hinkle Fieldhouse are often unavailable to non-athletes, Gardner said.

A secondary factor in the decision to build the facility involves Butler's desire to attract more male students, Gardner said. Butler's better-known programs-education, fine arts and pharmacy-draw a lot of female students. In fact, women make up 62 percent of the student population, he said.

The apartment complex is estimated to cost $32 million and the recreation center $18 million. Butler is funding the project with long-term debt that will be paid by revenue generated from rent and an increase in the student-activity fee. The fee jumped from roughly $250 to $650 a year.
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