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Out with the old dorm, in with the new $55 million dorm at the University of Tampa

An excavator with a giant mechanical claw tears down the University of Tampa’s ResCom residence hall on Thursday in downtown Tampa. UT is demolishing the 30-year-old residence hall and plans to soon break ground on the last section of the new $55 million Palm Apartments. 
An excavator with a giant mechanical claw tears down the University of Tampa’s ResCom residence hall on Thursday in downtown Tampa. UT is demolishing the 30-year-old residence hall and plans to soon break ground on the last section of the new $55 million Palm Apartments. 
Published May 24, 2016

TAMPA — When the University of Tampa unveiled its spacious apartment-style dorms 30 years ago, Ronald Reagan was president, Madonna ruled the radio and today's students were not yet born.

That was when UT had 2,500 students. Now it has 8,000 students, and on-campus living has become scarce. That's why the university on Thursday started demolishing its old 234-room ResCom dorm.

In its place will rise the last section of a $55 million, 252,618-square-foot structure that, once finished, will be the largest dorm on campus. The Palm Apartments will stand 10 stories tall and house about 660 students when it's projected to open in August 2017.

The new dorm is just one more sign of how much has changed at the university with the iconic minarets that sits along the Hillsborough River.

"We have nearly 2,000 first-year students every year coming in from outside the immediate area, and we need to accommodate them," UT director of Residential Communities Sabrina Griffith said. "We have a phenomenal challenge of people wanting to be here."

UT's enrollment numbers have reached record highs every year for the past two decades. Reducing the ResCom residential hall to a pile of rubble is the natural next step in the university's plan to grow its enrollment, campus and, officials say, its reputation.

Alumni, although nostalgic for nights spent in the courtyard or hanging from their old dorm room balconies, tend to agree.

"A lot has changed," said Marc Silver, 42, who lived in the ResCom dorms in 1993. "There are a lot more students and lots more choices from the food available for kids to eat to newer, nicer dorms. I'll be sad to see it go, but excited to see what is coming for the campus."

The Palm Apartments will rise in the heart of the campus and fit far more than the 234 students who lived in ResCom. One wing of the U-shaped dorm opened in January, bringing 209 new beds to campus. When the last section is complete, it will add 451 beds.

That will bring the number of on-campus beds for students to 3,828. There were roughly 1,200 on-campus beds when ResCom opened in 1986.

The new dorm will be divided into suites: each will consist of four or five private bedrooms joined by a common living room, kitchen and bathroom. Each floor will have private conference rooms, study spaces and laundry facilities. Students will be able to use an app on their smartphones that will alert them when a washer or drier is free.

On the main floor, the lobby will open onto a large outside courtyard and a canopied "outdoor living room," said Alex Andreakos, project manager with Design Styles Architecture, the firm that designed the Palm Apartments. The living spaces will be outfitted with quartz countertops, tile backsplashes and energy-efficient lighting.

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"I think the university has seen the value in investing in higher-quality materials for longevity," Andreakos said. "It does give it more of a luxury feel, but it's also beneficial because they won't have to replace and repair things year after year."

But those amenities don't come without a cost. The price to stay in a single room in the old ResCom dorms was $3,536 per semester. A single room in the new Palm Apartments dorm will cost $4,188 per semester, an increase of 18 percent, or $652.

Key to the new building's design was the preservation of large oak trees and an open courtyard, Andreakos said. That was welcome news for Matthew Hartford, 22, who graduated last week after spending the school year living in the ResCom dorms.

"Ever since freshman year I wanted to live there because it was very unique," Hartford said. "It will be cool to see they're still keeping aspects of the building but with a newer twist."

Palm Apartments is the eighth residence hall built since president Ronald Vaughn took the helm in 1995. Including the new dorm project, the university says it has invested about $500 million that has paid for 30 new campus buildings and extensive renovations to existing buildings since 1997. Vaughn hopes to raise another $150 million for campus development by the end of 2017.

That money will finance plans to demolish buildings originally constructed to house the Florida State Fair when it was held downtown in the 1970s and replace them with state-of-the-art labs and academic buildings.

Editor's note

This story has been updated to reflect the following correction: Ronald Vaughn is the president of UT. An earlier version of this story listed an incorrect first name.

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