Last month the University of Central Arkansas broke ground on a topic that has been discussed by university administrators for more than a decade — Greek housing.
“Historically, we’ve had sort of a hodgepodge as far as where Greeks can meet and/or reside,” said UCA President Tom Courtway.
UCA has provided sororities with chapter rooms throughout campus, but the university has never had freestanding sorority housing, whether it is owned by the university or a Greek organization.
Fraternities on the other hand, have had their own homes on and off university property for years.
Sigma Phi Epsilon owns their own house across from the university on Donaghey Avenue, and several other fraternities lease university housing along Western Avenue, including the Sigma Nus who owned two houses on Donaghey Avenue before the university purchased those houses, and recently tore them down to make way for the Donaghey Corridor project.
Greek Village will be the first living learning community exclusively for Greek organizations. The first phase will give sororities their own space on the UCA campus with five two-story sorority houses for the Panhellenic Council sororities. Each 10,400-SF house will consist of about 32 beds in fourteen double rooms and four single rooms.
“It didn’t seem fair to me to single out two sororities and three fraternities or vise versa and draw a name out of a hat and the others have to stand down and wait, so it seemed more logical, if you will, to make the first phase sorority houses,” Courtway said.
Greek Village will put an additional 160 female students on the UCA campus who are currently living elsewhere.
In October of 2013, the Board of Trustees approved bonds in an amount not to exceed $13.8 million for the design and construction of phase one.
A portion of the proposed Greek community center is also planned for phase one. The community center will provide public space for all Greek organizations, and house four chapter meeting rooms for UCA’s National Pan-Hellenic Council sororities.
“I believe student recruitment will pick up and it will increase the number of students going into Greek Life,” Courtway said.
Courtway said there are many benefits to bringing more Greek students to campus.
Greek students tend to stay in school, they graduate at a higher rate and Greek organizations produce student leaders, he said. Courtway was not Greek during his time as a student, so much of what he knows about Greek life he learned as president of UCA.
“Many of the leaders we have come out of the Greek system from the bond they develop with their brothers and sisters and the bond they develop with this university,” Courtway said.
Gary Roberts, dean of students, said after studying the graduation rate of two six-year cohorts of students, he found Greek students graduate at twice the rate of non-Greek students with Greek students achieving a grade point average of about 15 percent higher than non-Greek students.
“When you adjust for grade point average, our Greek students still graduate 13 to 15 percent higher than non-Greek students,” Roberts said. “That was really a turning point.”
Ronnie Williams, vice president of student services and institutional diversity, said UCA is going to continue to track Greek students’ graduation rates on a semester basis to continue to show the success of those students.
As the Greek population increases UCA anticipates the university’s overall graduation rate to improve as well, Roberts said.
Early discussions about Greek housing considered building a subdivision and leasing the homes to Greek organizations, much like the university’s system with fraternities along Western Avenue.
“We decided and the board agreed it would be preferable for the university to construct and own the buildings,” Courtway said.
This decision was reached for several reasons, Courtway said. “Number one you maintain control of the facility, and number two you ensure the architectural integrity and how it looks from the street,” he said.
UCA initially planned to build Greek Village along Western Avenue. In the summer of 2010, former UCA President Allen Meadors recommended the southwest corner of campus at the corner of Dave Ward Drive and Farris Road.
Due to a lack of underground utilities and potential for flooding, the location was officially moved to the corner of Donaghey, Augusta and Western Avenues at the beginning of 2013.
“It seemed to me and I think it seemed to the group a better location for Greek housing would be on the northeast end of the campus where you start at the intersection of College and Donaghey,” Courtway said.
Courtway said Greek Village will “transform and dress up” that side of the campus, and, in his opinion, he said, it’s a more favorable location for the students than the far southwestern corner.
“It’s much more convenient and assessable to the academic buildings and other things,” Courtway said.
Lindsey Osborne, assistant director of student life/ Panhellenic and Independent Greek Council advisor, acts as a liaison between the university and the sororities concerning decisions about the project.
“A big step for the [sororities] was deciding which sorority would be on which lot in the Village,” she said. “There were some sites that seemed more inciting than others, so managing that process with that many women was interesting, but we turned out with the second to best possible scenario.”
Four sororities received their first preference and one sorority received their second preference, she said, so there’s not much more you can do to make sure everyone is happy with the spot where their home will be built.
Students and alumni representatives were involved in the selection process for the exterior design and lot location.
Each of the five sorority houses will have differentiating designs of Colonial Georgian architecture, built with red brick and white columns consistent with the design of the surrounding buildings on campus.
The first phase is expected to be complete by the fall of 2015.
The second phase of Greek Village will include construction of fraternity houses for larger groups, as well as chapter meeting rooms for smaller fraternities with the completion of the Greek community center. No timeline for the second phase has been set, but it could begin a year or two after the first phase is completed, UCA says.