Working on the ‘master plan’

The view from Randy Alexander’s office is almost picturesque. The ninth floor office looks out to the north and despite being in the middle of town, the scene from the window is one of small, rolling hills and soft green land. Looking straight down, Randy points to the flat, black asphalt of the parking lot where he and his team at the housing department are hoping to build two more residence halls. It’s visionary.
This year, with a record number of enrolled students reaching 17,266, more than 30 freshman students were without housing. It is one problem the UA director of housing hopes to alleviate by adding 700 rooms when, and if, the proposed halls are built on the old parking lot.

“It’s kind of exciting,” said Alexander, “but there’s a lot of work involved.”

Since coming to the UA last November, Alexander has been setting the wheels in motion for what will inevitably be nearly ten years of hard work. Alexander and his department have been in the process of developing a “master plan” for the entire UA campus, hoping to accommodate the overwhelming number of new freshman, the expected rise in enrollment next year, and to make campus life more enjoyable to those who chose to live in residency halls. The “master plan,” is a proposal that covers the entire housing system and assesses which buildings need to be renovated, which ones need to be demolished, along with the kinds of buildings which need to be built, Alexander said. The “master plan” will guide future projects for construction and demolition for 10-15 years, with projects grouped into three year blocks.

Alexander is no stranger to big overhauls in campus communities; he came from Iowa State University, where he was in charge of developing a similar plan. Alexander said he hopes to increase the number of living and learning opportunities for residents, in addition to being able to accommodate more students. These “communities” are aimed primarily at freshmen with similar academic paths.

“We want to investigate some options for those types of programs that are learning communities focused toward academic majors,” Alexander said. “We’ve found that the more students live and learn in the same area, the better they perform.” Alexander said retention rates are high when these types of communities are offered.

Although much attention is given to freshmen, Alexander said he is not about to forget the other students on campus. He said that he hopes to get more suite-type halls on campus, as well as single apartments for upper classman who “liked the experience of being in the dorm but are ready to move out to their own apartment.”

The Housing department is financially independent of the university, and depends on the money that comes from students in residence halls for its income. Like any good businessman, Alexander knows that the customer is always right. Swinging back and forth in his chair and brandishing his letter opener like a dagger, he explained that one of the goals for the housing department is to provide the type of housing that students want.

“It’s not the same for every student,” Alexander said. “Many old plans, were ‘one size fits all.’ The housing that’s perfect for most freshmen is not perfect of most juniors and seniors, so we need to have a wider range of housing.”

In the corner of his office, Alexander has his own personal hard-hat – the one you find on construction sites. When asked what he likes most about his job, Alexander said he enjoyed the master plan activities – the renovation, the construction and the demolition. His eyes light up a bit and it seems that he’s ready to put on that hard-hat, get down to the parking lot, and start hammering away. If he can get approval from the higher powers that be, he might be able to don that hat in the years to come.

– Arkansas Traveler, Oct. 4, 2005

[Original profile available here.]

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