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Feels Like Home: As enrollment continues to hit record highs, a new on-campus apartment building provides additional student housing

Feels Like Home: As enrollment continues to hit record highs, a new on-campus apartment building provides additional student housing

By Jennifer Meers Jones ’08

The campus is alive with a flurry of activity on a sweltering mid-August day. Cars begin to arrive, packed with clothes, bedding, and books. Just as quickly as the cars arrive, they are unloaded. After multiple trips carrying heavy boxes up the stairs, the moving is finally done. As they breathe a sigh of relief, the students look around the room that will be their home away from home for the next nine months.

It is a scene that has played out thousands of times as each generation of students moves in to the campus residence halls and begins working to make the space into a home. 

This year, many students moved into a brand new campus facility. Garner Hall is the latest addition to the Independence Village apartment complex. The building was made possible by a gift from the John Hood Garner and Alleen Weatherford Garner Charitable Trust. Mr. and Mrs. Garner were lifelong residents of Belton who spent their lives working to further educational opportunities for young people in Bell County.

Nearly half of the student body lives on campus, with many students choosing to stay on campus all four years. As the university continues to see enrollment climb in record-breaking numbers each year, providing more campus housing is a top priority.

The three-story, 65,000-square-feet building added an additional 141 beds to on-campus housing. The construction, which began in February 2010, was completed just in time for students to move in this August.

Each 708-square-foot apartment in Garner Hall has two private bedrooms with a shared living area and bathroom. Every apartment is equipped with a washer and dryer, electric range, microwave, refrigerator, dishwasher, and garbage disposal.

The floor plan is similar to the three apartment buildings built in 2005—Hobby Hall, Wilson Hall, and Tyson Hall. Senior Vice President for Campus Planning and Support Services Edd Martin said the university elected to use a similar layout when it became apparent additional housing would be needed for the 2010-11 school year.

“There was simply not enough time to plan and construct dormitory style housing—the apartments were on a tight schedule at best,” Martin said. “Construction of a dormitory is typically a steel or concrete structure with a longer expected life. The lead time on materials, design, and engineering is usually longer. Wood frame construction takes less time due to availability of materials and trades that can work with wood frame construction.”

Garner Hall is the first residence facility on campus to use a keyless entry system. Residents use their student identification cards to enter the facility, similar to hotel card-key entries. Martin said the system was adopted due to the heightened level of security it provides.

“Eventually we expect to have card access to most facilities on campus. Obviously this is a time-consuming and costly process, but we believe it will provide better security for our faculty, staff, and students,” Martin said.

Patti Wright is Garner Hall’s resident director. She brings five years of experience to this position; she served as resident director of Stribling Hall from 2001 to 2006. After working at Scott & White Hospital for several years, Wright said she was excited to return to this role working with college students.

“The tug at the heart to apply for this position and to return was overwhelming,” Wright said. “When dropping off my application at HR, I had a sense of being back home. The other residence directors and the rest of the Residence Life staff are inspirations to me.”

Wright said the Garner Hall residents have been excited about the new facility and have responded well to the keyless entry system.

“Overall, the students’ reactions have been positive in nature. They all tell me that they love the new living space,” Wright said.

Junior education major Nicolette Wiesman, a resident of Garner Hall, said the biggest perks of living in the new facility are the added amenities, such as a dishwasher and laundry room, and the privacy of a single room.

“It is great to not have to do dishes by hand or carry laundry down the hall or outside to get to the washer and dryer. Garner is nice because there is a large kitchen, living area, bathroom, and you have your own room,” she said.

Wiesman said it is important to make the living space your own. She and her roommate immediately got to work adding personal touches that made the apartment feel like home.

“My family came up and helped decorate my apartment with me and my roommate. We wanted to include paintings and color schemes that depicted our personalities. We also put up pictures of family and friends to remind us of the memories we share.”

As the university continues to grow, additional student housing will continue to be a pressing need, Martin said.

“We are always looking for ways to enhance our students’ on-campus experience, whether that be through housing or other means. We are excited about everything Garner Hall will add to the quality of residential life for students both now and in the future.”

Residential living through the years: We take a look back at how living on campus has changed in the past 165 years

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