New Residential Commons expected to change campus life

The skeleton of the new dining and eating area stands among the five Residential Commons buildings. (Christopher Saul / The Daily Campus)

Not all students living in residence halls on the south side of campus have experienced the livelihood that comes along with a central quad or dining hall, but in a little over a year more students will be migrating that way.

SMU is on track to transform the entire campus into a Residential Commons model by the summer of 2014.

This transformation includes both the current housing experience and the construction of five new communities in the southeast corner of campus.

“The Residential Commons model, with the addition of approximately 1250 new bed space on campus, allows us to house all first- and second-year students on campus with limited housing for upper-class students and graduate students,” Jeff Grim, Assistant Director of Residence Life for Academic Initiatives, said.

Along with these new residence halls, several living rooms, study rooms, multipurpose rooms, and a new dining hall are all a part of the plan.

Creators hope to facilitate a close-knit learning and living environment that students can call “home.”

“My hope is that it will create a more vibrant campus ‘after hours.’ With so many students residing and dining on campus, I hope an increased energy will develop,” Julie Wiksten, Associate Vice President of Campus Services, said.

The new dining hall will be a two-story facility with indoor and outdoor areas, seating up to around 500 people.

It will be largely naturally lit through two-story windows and a rotunda.

Wiksten described multiple seating areas and said they would each have a feeling of their own: booths, high top tables, banquette seating and outdoor seating.

In addition, there will be limited unseen kitchen space.

The food will be mostly made-to-order. Therefore, almost everything will be produced right in front of the customer.

“It will have a large pizza oven along with a large grill similar to what you see at Genghis Grill. Many of the items served will be a ‘small plates’ concept,” Wiksten said. “Students will have input into what the final menus are.”

Administrators are optimistic about the new amenities working to engage more students on campus.

The Residential Commons will enable all students to spend their freshman and sophomore years living on campus.

“If I were a sophomore, I would have definitely been excited to live on campus for a second year. In fact, I would do it all four years if that were the norm,” senior McKinley Siegfried said.

“As long as living on campus and being a part of the community is expected and normal, I think students will be excited about it.”

Grim believes that having more students living on campus is a good thing.

He said research shows that students living on-campus are retained at a higher rate, are more engaged on campus and typically have higher GPAs.

“We want all of our students to have a quality, academically-focused, first two years to propel them into their upper-class years of college and beyond,” Grim said.

Grim mentioned that several universities have made similar transitions, but most took the transition slow and gradually relocated students over a longer period of time.

“At SMU we are going all in. It’s exciting and we have given ourselves plenty of time to plan for it. But transforming the residential experience, while opening five new facilities is a big undertaking,” Grim said.

Wiksten believes that the hardest transition will be the shift of so much activity to the southeast end of campus.

“I would definitely consider living there due to the new dining concept rather than the standard cafeteria-style service area. However, it is far away from classes so that is a negative aspect of it,” sophomore Chint Murdock said.

Administrators are in the process of selecting the faculty in residences.

FIRs will be appointed after a series of interviews from faculty, staff and students.

Also, there will be 17 students on the Residential Commons Student Leadership Corps that will help establish each Residential Commons over the next year and a half.

Siegfried, expected to graduate in May, is optimistic about the future of SMU in conjunction with the residential commons. 

“I think it’s a really good thing for SMU to try and keep students on campus,” Siegfried said. “I think the new dorms will help make SMU feel more like a college and [it] will help enhance school spirit.”

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