Board of Trustees to decide on $38 million housing plan


Sophomore Magaly Vargas, left, and freshman Isabel Martinez study inside a friend’s room in Johnson Hall. The Village was built in 2009; it is currently the newest residence hall.

A new residence hall may be on its way to St. Edward’s University, if the Board of Trustees approves plans at their September meeting.

The $38 million plan, if approved, will be the first residence hall built on campus since 2009. The new hall will have 450 beds in an apartment-style building, said Kim Kvaal, vice president of Financial Affairs. Currently, there are 1,416 beds on campus, an increase of 33 beds from last year.

This hall has been a part of the university’s Campus Master Plan since June 2011. “The new facilities will be developed in three to four story buildings along Moody Drive on the site of the Woodward Office Building and existing surface parking,” according to the document. 

“Facilities and university police, which are the major occupants of the Woodward Office Building, are going to be moving to the operations building when it opens in 2016,” Kvaal said. “There is no net loss of parking.”

If the proposed residence hall were here today, it would have likely housed all 338 students who were on the waitlist. 

Ninety-seven students who were on the waitlist were able to be placed in housing on campus, said Residence Life Director Alicia Vela.

One of the students who remained on the waitlist and ultimately did not receive on-campus housing was junior Meredith Bunning. 

She and her three friends decided that they wanted to live together and put their names onto the waitlist. 

“We set up our online application thing and were soon notified that we were No. 84 on the waitlist, and that we would be notified as soon as housing became available for us,” Bunning said. “We called periodically … throughout the summer, asking [Residence Life] if our position had moved up. They always said that we were in the same position, but reassured us that our number was a good place to be, and that there was a really good chance that we were going to get housing on campus.”

“Just because you put yourself on the waitlist does not mean all 338 want to live on campus,” Vela said. “People put their names on the list for various reasons.”

When students sign up for housing, they consent to be placed on the waitlist. They rank their top five preferences and Residence Life attempts to satisfy it. 

As students begin to cancel their room reservations, usually during the summer, Residence Life begins the task of going through the waitlist. 

“We start calling and saying, ‘Hey! We have rooms available. Are you interested?’ People say, ‘Yay, I want that’ or ‘No, I don’t want that,’” Vela said. 

Often, Vela said, many students are set on their top choice. So when they call and offer something other than their top pick, students reject the offer. 

However, there are other students who will take anything Residence Life offers. 

“Everybody has a special unique circumstance; that’s why we ask and work with people all summer long,” said Vela.

As the beginning of the school year loomed, Bunning and her friends decided they had put too much trust in Residence Life, and began finding alternative solutions to housing. 

All three of her friends found housing on campus.

“So there I was, left out in the cold with about a month of summer left to figure out my game plan,” Bunning said. “I didn’t have a car, or anywhere to live.”

It was at this point Bunning posted a status on Facebook saying she “might not get to return to St. Edward’s University this semester because there isn’t enough on-campus housing …”

Among one of the 25 comments on Bunning’s status was one from Vice President for Student Affairs Lisa Kirkpatrick, who was Bunning’s freshman year mentor. Kirkpatrick referred Bunning to an apartment locator. 

“We’re a community here … we want students to use their resources,” Kirkpatrick said.

The university plays a role in gathering those resources, Kirkpatrick said. 

During the summer, her office sent out a questionnaire to all faculty and staff to see if they could help identify students who were having difficulty finding housing. She also sent students to apartment referrers, furniture rental services and even alumni who could help.

“We upgraded our off campus housing publication so that students could have good information about how do you approach renting housing off campus and what that is like in Austin,” Kirkpatrick said. 

With housing settled, Bunning found a roommate through a housing group in the St. Edward’s University Facebook page.

Bunning and her roommate ended up moving into an affordable apartment off of Stassney, and her father found “a really good deal on a car.”

“Although everything has seemingly worked out, my parents and I are now on an even more strict budget than we were before, because now we have to pay for gas, rent, electricity and a car payment,” she said.

Financing the new hall

To pay for the proposed residence hall, the university will take a cue from its students and borrow money.

Because students pay for housing, residence halls come built in with a constant revenue stream. 

“So we use that revenue stream to pay for the loan we will execute to pay to construct the building,” Kvaal said. “As we’re considering this project we’re looking at what is the cost of construction and what’s called the debt service which is the loan payment that’s due every year.”

The building will stand on it own, Kvaal said. “It’s not going to be subsidized or funded through tuition,” she said.

St. Edward’s is a tuition-dependent institution meaning that students’ tuition pays for all of the costs of operating the university. The 2016 fiscal year operating budget is $113 million. 

Tuition is but one of several spending streams the university can use. It also has the endowment.

“Our endowment is a like a long term savings account,” Kvaal said. “Those monies of the long term savings account and then they fund scholarship expense; might fund a professorship; or might be eligible to fund any expense of the university.”

The endowment is $94.8 million, as of June 30. 

“The … last primary spending source is contributions,” Kvaal said.

Contributions to the university can either be restricted — contributors specify how the money will be used — or unrestricted — the university decides what to do with the money.

“Contribution revenue is a significant or meaningful funding stream for us that helps underwrite the cost of the university,” said Kvaal.

Financing the building is a balancing act for the university. It has to project the cost of operating and staffing the new building plus the cost of utilities, while also finding a loan rate that fits into the university’s rate structure and one that is in line with the market, Kvaal said.