LSU suffering from shortage of on-campus housing

BATON ROUGE - When LSU started class Monday, they had to turn away more students seeking on-campus housing than ever.

In fact, the demand is so high, the school is now seeking permission to renovate and reopen the outdated Kirby-Smith Hall to students. In recent years, it has been used for storage and office space.

The waiting list for housing reached a peak of 1,000 students before falling to its current level at 688 students. According to LSU officials, it is the result of the somewhat unexpected jump in freshman enrollment this fall.

“The good news is we’ve seen a real surge in demand; the bad news is we can’t accommodate it all,” said LSU Chancellor Michael Martin. “We’re a little surprised at the surge we got this year.

Martin also says that reopening Kirby-Smith, a hall that is 45 years old, is necessary until new housing is completed.

“It is an ugly building, but it’s functional,” he said. “It’ll be three-to-four-year max utilization while we bring some new construction online.”

The plan, now, is to use $1.7 million in student housing fee revenues to spruce up Kirby-Smith. This will allow more than 350 extra beds to open next year. The plan requires LSU Board of Supervisors approval on Friday.

The housing issue is further complicated by the fact that some student housing is currently shut down for renovations. According to LSU Director of Residential Life Steve Waller, these must be completed before new housing can be built. East Laville Hall and its 300 beds are closed for renovations until 2012, and delayed rebuilding of Graham Hall and its 350 beds is scheduled to be done in 2012 too, Waller said.

Waller added that the last step involves a residence hall with 500 beds on the west side of campus to be completed in 2015. It is then that Kirby-Smith could be taken out of operation again, possibly even sooner.

LSU Student Government President J Hudson believes that while it is disappointing that some students who want to live on campus are being turned away, it is a sign of the university’s overall growth, which is a positive.

“But with growth you also have expectations you have to fill, and housing is one of those expectations,” Hudson said. “It looks bad on the university that we don’t have enough room.”

Martin said he is pleased LSU’s enrollment is on the rise, despite the budget cuts and tuition increase.

According to the university’s early estimates, freshman enrollment is more than 5,400 new freshman, which is not only up from last year’s 4,700, but also close to the record of 5,700 new freshman.

The applications to the university also set an all-time record. The school received nearly 18,300 applications this past year.

This year’s problem was also hampered by the record number of out-of-state students who chose LSU, according to Waller. He says a larger percentage of them want to live on campus initially.

LSU’s student housing woes first arose after the 2008 gasoline price increase. The increase led to a greater demand for on-campus housing. This followed the school throwing out plans that were set to require freshmen live on campus.

“Last year was the first year we did a (housing) standby list in the history of the school,” said Waller. He noted that last year’s peak was 500 students.

LSU currently has more than 4,700 beds on campus for typical undergraduates, which is about 200 beds fewer than two years ago. The school has another 600 or so beds for married and graduate students housing.

“We’ve been saying for two years that housing on campus is limited. We’ve tried to be very transparent,” said Waller.

Waller says the key is for students to apply for housing as soon as they have been accepted. All students who applied for housing April 1 or later we initially wait-listed this year, he said.

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