Residential Goal Drives ASU Building Boom

Ten years ago, Arkansas State University set a goal to change its identity from a commuter campus to a residential one. A decade and more than $200 million in building projects later, the Jonesboro campus is approaching the finish line.

“I first started coming onto this campus in 1974 when my older brother was on campus here,” said Len Frey, ASU’s vice chancellor. “I came here as a student in 1981. The evolution of what this campus looked like in 1981 to what it is today is almost beyond words.”

There wasn’t much campus life, Frey said. Students came to campus for classes and went home afterward. For living on campus, male students had two options, said Rick Stripling, vice chancellor for student affairs and construction manager.

“There was Delta Hall, which was an old building at the time, and Twin Towers, a high-rise that held 900 to 1,000 guys,” he said. “Nobody really wanted to live in it.”

But by 2000, the college wanted its students to get to campus and stay there. Shane Broadway, interim director of the Arkansas Department of Higher Education in Little Rock, said ASU’s approach was hardly unique.

“Some of the thought on ASU and others is a change in the direction to provide more campus housing, as data tells them and us that the more connected to the campus a student is, the better their chances of graduating,” Broadway said. He cited the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, Arkansas Tech University in Russellville and the University of Central Arkansas in Conway as examples of Arkansas universities that have expanded on-campus housing.

Still, he said, ASU’s changes have been eye-popping. The campus footprint ballooned from 3 million SF to 4 million in the past decade. It increased its enrollment 14 percent between 2010 and 2011, and almost 30 percent during the past five years. Of its roughly 10,000 students, 3,200 currently live on campus, more than twice as many compared with a decade ago.

David Handwork, ASU’s director of planning, said the 240,000-SF Student Union, completed in 2007, was the anchor of ASU’s building boom. At $35 million, it’s the largest of all the building projects undertaken during the decade. It consolidated all student services into a one-stop location at the center of campus and bisected Aggie Road. It also had the effect of rerouting auto traffic out of the center of campus, giving students more room and incentive to walk around.

Other completed multimillion-dollar projects include:

• The $24 million North Park Quad, a multistory housing facility;

• The $20 million Arkansas Biosciences Institute, which partners its research programs with the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences and the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville;

• The $18 million Red Wolf Recreation Center; and

• The $15 million Donald W. Reynolds Center for Health Sciences, among numerous other residential and sport-related projects.

Frey said increased enrollment and accompanied tuition dollars have fueled the school's residential projects. Academic buildings usually require a different source of revenue, however.

"If you look at the Reynolds Building, it was named after [the] Donald Reynolds [Foundation], who provided some external grant funding," Frey said. "The Delta Center for Economic Development was external grant funding."

Current Projects

ASU is still expanding, and the campus is abuzz with construction as several large projects inch their way to completion.

The largest ongoing project, a 120,625-SF, $32 million humanities building, has been on the drawing board since 2002. It’s currently a skeleton of girders in the center of campus, and when completed next summer it will be the school’s largest academic building. ASU didn’t have the funds to build it when the project was approved a decade ago, Handwork said. A $4 million state appropriation arrived hand-in-hand with the Great Recession, the latter delaying the project further.

“We got another appropriation last year from the Legislature,” Handwork said, noting that between that money and advocacy by alumnus Gov. Mike Beebe, the building’s steel envelope should reach completion at the end of 2012.

The building will feature classrooms, offices, two large auditoriums, computer labs and writing labs. The design of the building is intended to allow natural lighting into the classrooms, Handwork said. It’s being built by Tate General Contractors Inc. of Jonesboro.

A $17 million road through the center of campus, the federally funded Marion Berry Parkway, is also under way, with the first two phases complete. The third and final phase is in the works. Handwork said it will complete a road between ASU’s center campus and its west campus.

Two more housing projects are also currently under way. One will provide residences for sororities and is slated to be mostly complete by the end of the year.

“There are five houses,” Handwork said. “Each house has a little over 8,000 square feet and has 20 beds for students.”

The project cost $8 million and is being built by Nabholz Construction Corp. of Conway.

Stripling said ASU’s sororities had outgrown their designated housing in University Hall, a 50-year-old building, and the college decided that making the sororities comfortable fit into its “destination” plan.

Stripling said ASU wanted “to place recognizable value in living on campus and being on campus. We recognize the value of Greek life and the support it lends to the types of events you have on a residential campus.”

The second residential project will provide about 100 beds for honors students across several buildings. Baldwin & Shell Construction Co. of Little Rock is building the 35,000-SF, $6 million project.

“The honors program has grown over the last few years,” Stripling said. “This is the kind of piece that pulls it together.”

A few more building projects are simmering as well. “We have some that we are exploring the finances of just to see if they’re feasible to do,” Stripling said.

Among those projects on the exploration list is more student housing. “We still have a high demand,” Stripling said. “We have to determine what the next steps for housing are.”

Frey said ASU is also looking into a College of Business building, but it will largely depend on external funding.

ASU Building Projects Since 2002

Completion YearProjectTotal Cost
2007 Student Union 35,100,000
2013-14 Humanities & Social Sciences 32,000,000
2006 North Park Quad 24,223,570
2005 Arkansas Biosciences Institute 20,360,000
2009 Red Wolf Recreation Center 17,735,886
2013-14 Marion Berry Parkway 17,124,856
2009 Donald W. Reynolds Center for Health Sciences 15,229,919
2009 Red Wolf Den Apartments 11,256,860
2013-14 Sorority Housing 9,926,479
2009 Honors Residence Hall 9,103,722
2005 Family Student Housing, Phase II 8,250,000
2003 Family Student Housing, Phase I 7,500,000
2013-14 Honors Living Learning Community 7,131,508
2009 Delta Center for Economic Development 6,999,337
2010 STEM/ROTC Living Learning Residence Hall 5,841,780
2002 Parking Deck 5,540,114
2002 Fieldhouse 3,797,400
2004 Track Complex 3,113,000
2007 Childhood Services Day Care Center 1,700,000
2002 Soccer Complex 269,540
2006 Cooper Alumni Center Private - Undisclosed