Dover planning department working with DSU to fast-track residence hall construction project

Dave Hugg

DOVER — The construction of a new five-story, 190,000-square-foot student residence hall at Delaware State University is not your typical run-of-the-mill type of project when it comes to the city of Dover.

Rather, City Planner Dave Hugg said a tight deadline — the university hopes to open the new dormitory by the fall 2019 session — as well as considerations for having construction on campus during the school year, make this a much more complex plan to work out than some others the city has faced.

That is why it is so important for the city’s Planning Department to do what it can to allow Delaware State University to streamline some of its normal processes to meet that tight deadline.

“What I really like about this project is everybody involved from the get-go has said this is an important project and we want to get it done and make it flow as efficiently as it can,” Mr. Hugg said. “It’s nice to have that kind of relationship built around early meetings and lots of discussion.”

The city’s Planning Commission didn’t seem to have any major issues with DSU’s Site Development Master Plan on Nov. 20, which will be undertaken in three phases:

1 – Relocation of utilities (water, sanitary sewer, stormwater, gas, etc.) within the project area to accommodate the location of the new building. The city just received the administrative permit for this part of the project.

2 – Construction of the new student residence hall (600 beds) and associated dining facilities. The project area location will be in the southwestern portion of the campus between Loockerman Hall, which is the birthplace of the university, and Warren & Franklin Hall.

This phase also will include the demolition of Lydia P. Laws Hall, an existing dormitory building.

3 – The completion of the new student residence hall and the demolition of Harriet Tubman Hall, another existing dormitory.

“It’s a multi-phase project and I think what’s key to it is the fact that we’re moving this project under kind of an accelerated review cycle so that certain pieces that were being approved are allowed to begin, even though as would be with a typical project you would have all of the approvals and all of the components of the plan would be in place,” said Mr. Hugg. “However, this project is different mainly because of the time pressure.

“It’s just things that normally follow in sequence – because of the timing – they are being allowed to overlap.”

J.D. Bartlett, A.V.P. for Capital Planning & Environmental Sustainability for Delaware State University, said he is pleased with how everything has gone so far in working with the city’s Planning Department.

“We’re very excited about this project,” Bartlett said. “We’re phasing it in so that we can kind of reduce the impact to the campus, but still provide for what we need to do.”

Mr. Bartlett said the university expects construction to begin on the residential hall project soon.

“Utility work is going to start in early 2018 and, ultimately, the construction will be completed by fall of 2019,” he said.

Mr. Hugg noted there are a couple of issues facing the university that will make this project a little bit more complex than others.

“What makes it somewhat complex is just because the timing is so tight,” he said. “The second thing that makes it complex is that they’re tearing down existing dorms and kind of building almost in the same site, so it’s not like a greenfield someplace where there’s nothing much to have to worry about.

“Another thing that makes this complex is that while this is going on, you’ve got the regular college session going on, you’ve got students on campus, so you’ve got to phase the construction in a way that it doesn’t disrupt the campus too badly.”

Once completed, DSU’s residence hall will house up to 600 students at maximum capacity. Currently, only 2,300 or the university’s 4,600 students reside on campus.

The new residence hall will also include new dining facilities and a ground floor innovation center that will create a critical connection between the university’s academic programs and student affairs.

“The students are excited to see the changes that are coming and I think that’s a big thing for them,” Mr. Bartlett said.

“Plus, the fact that we’re focused on providing another option for housing is an exciting option for them as well.”

Mr. Hugg said he believed it was important to the university to have a greater population of its students live on campus.

“From Delaware State’s perspective, you’ve got to figure out how to take care of shifting students around, both from existing campus facilities and off-campus,” he said. “One of their objectives is to bring back onto campus a lot of the folks who are now living in outlying buildings and motels.

“Their housing situation is so tight that they’ve got a lot of students living off campus.”

Dr. Wilma Mishoe

Dr. Wilma Mishoe, who will take over as Delaware State University’s first female interim president on Jan. 25, 2018, said the addition of modern housing will be a big win for the school’s students.

“Our No. 1 priority at DSU is student success and we believe that encompasses every aspect of student life including rigorous academic offerings, exceptional teaching, learning and service opportunities, and a residential community that is inviting and inclusive,” Dr. Mishoe said.

“This new effort helps us match the demand we have felt from our students with the goals we have outlined for their success.”

Mr. Hugg said it is important for the city’s Planning Department to work side-by-side with colleges and universities in Dover as they grow.

He noted that DSU is one of the largest employers in the city and it is involved in a competitive marketplace.

“It’s important to work closely with them to basically help market the university,” Mr. Hugg said. “We’re going to do things to help all of the colleges and universities in Dover present themselves well and compete for students because it’s a competitive environment that they’re in.

“A lot of college decisions are based on things such as housing, and for Delaware State University, this new residence hall is going to be a nice addition to the campus and it really is going to give them a leg up on their competition.”

Delaware State News staff writer Mike Finney can be reached at mfinney@newszap.com.

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