The University of Central Arkansas’s plan to build a multi-million dollar Greek Village to meet housing needs and bring up the quality of facilities on campus must move forward this year, university officials said.
“We’ve been talking about this a long time,” said Gary Roberts, dean of students. “In our opinion, this is either the year we do it or we don’t.”
Nestled on about 12.5 acres at the corner of Dave Ward Drive and Farris Road, the Greek Village is meant to be a grand focal point on campus, attracting students who want a nice place to live and meeting housing needs as UCA continues to grow, officials said. A photo in a report passed out during the Board of Trustee meeting Friday, Aug. 3, shows a Grecian-style building capable of adding up to 350 beds on campus.
The university has been talking about Greek Village since about 2004, but the project fell through the cracks for years as UCA tried to rebuild its finances after going into the red in 2008. But, UCA is out of its financial hole, showing about $12 million in unrestricted cash revenue, and has not maxed its debt that could be used to build new.
But the price tag is high.
Engineering and architectural costs alone are about $290,000, money UCA has budgeted, said Diane Newton, vice president for finance and administration. The cost to build Greek Village is between $15 million and $18 million, said Ronnie Williams, vice president of student services.
If trustees approve Greek Village — and the state approves bonds for the project — UCA could break ground on the new facility next year, according to its timeline.
“We just think it’s a good time to be looking at development for Greek Village,” Roberts said. “This is a good time to be looking at the future.”
But officials need to work quickly before some of the university’s 22 fraternity and sorority organizations, and its 975 members, build their own facilities off campus.
One fraternity that currently leases a building from UCA will have the option to move off campus in about a year, because of a contract with UCA when the fraternity sold its property to UCA. Another fraternity has a similar contract, but the lease expired, the fraternity did not move and time has made the contract moot, Williams said.
Officials don’t want organizations to leave UCA, officials said. The better option is to have adequate housing and keep students on campus. Part of the report to trustees said: “Greek houses would come under university policies, which would be managed and enforced by university staff. We should experience fewer serious behavioral problems.”
UCA investigated at least one fight between two fraternity members at the Conway City Expo Center last year.
Having Greek Life is likely to ease problems between non-Greeks and the fraternities too, officials said. “There is constant tension between residence hall students and Greek groups in residence halls because of noise, trash and other related issues,” the report said. Non-Greek students are frustrated when a flood of Greek members come to the halls for meetings, Roberts said.
Greek Village also has the potential to help solve housing needs at the university, officials said.
The overall condition of UCA’s facilities — the Facilities Condition Index — is at 59.8 percent, which means UCA’s facilities are aging and need updating, remodeling or repairing. Some Greek facilities are too small for the organizations leasing them from UCA, Roberts said. And old residence halls, where meetings take place, are often limited by capacity requirements that are too small for the membership. A report on different buildings on UCA, for example, shows Carmichael Hall — a residence hall where some fraternities meet — was built in 1968. While Carmichael needs some upgrades, other housing has more critical needs.
On the university’s housing needs list, as of July 19, UCA needed to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on halls that needed fire sprinkler systems, upgrades to internet and shower replacements. Some of those needs are marked under “safety.”
Greek Village could meet many university needs, including housing needs, Roberts said.
“This is a piece of the housing puzzle,” he said.