Hospital Hill housing offers students convenience

UMKC’s Hospital Hill campus will be adding student housing to be completed in the fall of 2014. The campus apartments, which will be similar to Oak Place Apartments on the Volker Campus, will be located at 25th and Troost Avenue.

Gould Evans Architecture of Kansas City designed the $30.33 million project, which will be funded by state bonds and Missouri state tax credits.

“We used Oak Place Apartments as sort of a basis of design, as far as the type of construction, the general layout of the rooms and the type of rooms that we’re using, Jeff Vandel, director of Facilities, Planning, Design and Construction, said. “In general it will look similar to Oak Place, but it is made to really fit in with the part of the city where it’s being built.”

The project includes 245 beds in one-, two- and four-bedroom units, with an adjacent parking structure of 196 parking spaces. The parking structure will be located at the north end of the building, and only students with specific cards will be able to access the garage and the residential building. It will have no external exits, plenty of surveillance cameras and a UMKC police substation.

“Traditionally if you say ‘Troost,’ parents will say, ‘You’re putting the housing where?’” Eric Grospitch, dean of students, said. “I would say that if you look now at Kansas City crime statistics in the Beacon Hill area, there isn’t a reason to be any more concerned than you would be about my neighborhood in Overland Park.”

The university began research on Hospital Hill housing in 2007, according to Grospitch. The first series of market research was conducted in 2008 by an outside company, and the second series was conducted in 2012 by Dr. Larry Bunce, director of institutional research for UMKC. Bunce conducted research that included student polling, which asked Hospital Hill students questions about what they are looking for in student housing.

“There is really a need for our Hospital Hill students particularly to have some housing up in that area,” Grospitch said. “One of the other needs is also a fitness center. Right now our fitness center is in a steel-fad building, and it doesn’t quite fit the needs of students very well. The nursing program is expanding to include the health sciences program, and so our undergraduate population is continuing to expand. With that comes the need for safe, affordable housing in the area.”

Students will have a say in the type of furniture selected for the units, along with what other amenities students want or do not want to be provided for them. Rent will be equivalent to rent at Oak Place, which will include internet, cable and all other utilities in one bill. Contrary to Oak Place Apartments, the new housing project will focus primarily on one-bedroom units as students requested a desire for more of these rooms. Rent will be assigned per bed, similarly to Oak Place’s policy.

“All of our campus housing is funded by state bonds,” Grospitch said. “The state sells bonds and that’s basically how we borrow our money. There are no state dollars that come to fund any of our housing units. We have to generate all the revenues to run and maintain power and electricity through rent. There are no state dollars that go into this. It is all funded by students who choose to live there. Our occupancy is very important. We need to keep it at a decent level, but it also means we need to keep the rents reasonable in order to do that. A student who does not live on campus pays nothing for campus housing.”

The Hospital Hill housing project will feature fenced-in courtyards, outdoor seating and grilling areas, and a walkway leading to a neighboring park per an agreement with the Beacon Hill Neighborhood Association. It will also have a 10-foot wide promenade connecting the housing structure to Hospital Hill’s campus.

“The walkway will be well-lit and it will have benches,” Grospitch said. “Our hope is to make it as wide open and secure as possible and to deter any unsavory characters from hanging around the area.”

As requested by polled students, the new housing project will include a 1,200-square-foot fitness center in the main lobby of the building. The fitness center can be accessed by students who do not reside in the apartments with a student ID, but the residential areas will be inaccessible unless students are residents there.

The current fitness center on Hospital Hill, formerly known as the Nursing Annex, will likely be returned to the program due to expansion of that particular school, according to Grospitch.

Unlike Oak Place Apartments, which was built by an outside contractor and done as a land lease, the Hospital Hill housing project will be owned and operated by the university in order to keep rents low.

“The university realized that the company was gouging students for money, so UMKC bought Oak Place to keep rents lower,” Grospitch said. “There was not as much student feedback into development and design process as there is for this new project.”

Vandel said the housing project gives the schools on Hospital Hill an opportunity to grow even more by bringing students to the area.

“This brings income for the university which helps pay for the bonds,” Vandel said.

Grospitch said there is no restriction regarding school program affiliation to live in the new housing. Any second-year and above students are able to live on Hospital Hill. Currently there is a single-gender housing policy at the Hospital Hill residence.

“The idea is that we want first-year students to really get engaged on campus and get familiar with these areas,” Grospitch said. “While you as a student may choose this type of housing for the privacy, it’s not really the best option for your success. We are still trying to focus our first-year students in Johnson and Oak Street residence halls. If a law student or an arts & sciences student wants to live there, we will sign them up. There is not a requirement per major.”

Grospitch said that the university is making every effort to ensure that the new student housing facility will be as safe as possible.

“I do hope that the thought of UMKC as a commuter campus is kind of becoming a thing of the past,” Vandel said. “We want to be of thought of as a destination place where students will stay for four years.”

Kate Baxendale is managing editor at University News. She is also an intern at KCUR-FM. Kate will graduate with a B.A. in Communication Studies - Journalism and Mass Communications and a B.A. in Spanish in May 2014.

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