Meeting explores trade-offs in new NU dorm plan

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Northwestern University officials discussed the trade-offs involved in planning a new dormitory amid largely skeptical questions from a group of about 100 Evanston residents Tuesday night.

University officials said they haven't made final decisions about what to build in the south campus area as they work to expand housing capacity to be able to require all freshman and sophomore students to live on campus starting next fall.

A conceptual mockup NU submitted to the city of what the new dorm building might look like.

Alan Anderson, NU's executive director of neighborhood and community relations, told the crowd at the 1st Ward meeting hosted by Alderman Judy Fiske that the school wanted to have a thoughtful conversation and partnership with residents to come up with a mutually beneficial result.

But the school has submitted preliminary plans to the city that describe tearing down the five-story 1835 Hinman dorm and replacing it with a new building, portions of which would be seven stories tall.

Combined with the existing Jones Residential College, the changes would raise the number of students housed on the block from about 337 to just over 600.

Neighbors complained about the proposed height of the building, and some suggested adding more dorm space elsewhere on campus instead.

An NU campus map showing the block bounded by Hinman, Sheridan and Clark.

NU owns all the property on the block bounded by Hinman Avenue, Sheridan Road and Clark Street. And the added dorm capacity could be achieved by building a shorter building that filled more of the block.

But John D'Angelo, the school's vice president of facilities management, said that would mean having the dorm extend much closer to the private homes on the south side of Clark.

John D'Angelo.

He said the university had considered other possible south campus locations — including Alison Hall at 1820 Chicago Ave. and the sorority quads along Emerson Street and University Place.

But Alison provides "a big chunk of the beds we currently have" on south campus, D'Angelo said, so taking that off line for new construction would have a big impact on current student capacity.

Some of the people who turned out for the meeting at the Evanston Public Library.

The sorority quad are in a historic district and have historic merit, while the 1835 Hinman building doesn't have any historical significance, he said.

"We did look at other options," D'Angelo said, "and we made the determination that this offers the path of less resistance."

Even though the 1835 Hinman building was built in the 1980s, "it wasn't built very well for a 1980s building" and is "very inefficiently designed and at the end of its useful life," D'Angelo added.

By eliminating the large single-story dining hall space that's part of the existing building, he said, a new design would be able to add a significant number of beds without reducing green space.

When a woman in the audience asked how the dorm project would benefit the city, Alderman Delores Holmes, 5th Ward, responded that residents of her ward — west of the campus — "would love to have students on campus and out of the neighborhood."

"That's the biggest benefit," Holmes said.

The city's community development director, Mark Muenzer, outlined the long process the dorm project will have to go through — with reviews by the Board of Local Improvements for a planned alley vacation, the Preservation Commission because it's in a historic district, the Design and Project Review Committee, the Plan Commission and the City Council.

He said review of a planned development in Evanston typically takes about six months, but that given the number of steps involved with the dorm project, "It could go longer than that."

Related story

NU to discuss plan for 7-story dorm on Hinman (9/6/16)

NU discusses new dorm with neighbors (8/17/16)

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