by ALEXANDRA RETTER
Substantial changes are in the works for Winona State University’s (WSU) West Campus. Those shifts could include building sales and closures.
The university recently announced that West Campus housing will move to the main campus (see 2B). The Tau Center, Lourdes Hall and Maria Hall make up West Campus.
WSU hopes to sell the buildings and put the proceeds toward constructing more contemporary housing on the main campus, university president Scott Olson said. The university could use the funds to tear down an existing residence hall on the main campus, Prentiss-Lucas Hall, and build a modern dorm in its place, he said.
All 200 students impacted by the shift have new housing assignments on the main campus or at East Lake Apartments, University Communications Specialist Tesla Mitchell said.
Though the housing change had been included in university planning before, the decision to pursue it now was more recent. The Minnesota State System Board of Trustees gave its approval for WSU to seek bids for the West Campus buildings. The university could possibly make a request for proposals public around this October, Olson said. Then, around November, WSU could review any proposals it receives before potentially choosing one around December. The university would then need to gain the Minnesota State System Board of Trustees’ agreement with the chosen offer and sale. WSU could possibly approach the Board of Trustees next January or February with a bid. If the board approved the bid, transfer of the property or properties could potentially happen next spring. Olson explained that this timeline is speculative, as the university could receive no proposals, for instance, or the bids could be too low.
In the meantime, the Tau Center could potentially be used as a place to isolate students who have COVID-19 this fall, Olson said. The university used the center as a COVID isolation building last school year. Events like weddings, conferences and retreats that now occur on West Campus could also still take place in the buildings, he said.
However, Olson noted that if WSU receives no viable proposals and remains the buildings’ owner, it could shutter them to reduce the cost of maintaining and operating them. “The university saves money, and, therefore, students save money or have their money redirected toward other things more important to them, if those buildings are closed,” he said. He added that in such a situation, WSU would also most likely continue to wish to shift all housing back to the main campus; the timeframe for doing so may simply become longer, as the university would have to wait for funding to accumulate for taking action such as tearing down and rebuilding Prentiss-Lucas Hall.
WSU included its hopes to move all housing onto the main campus in a past master plan. Having received the Board of Trustees’ approval to seek bids and with decreased enrollment projections, the university is now pursuing the housing change more quickly than it expected, Olson said. “It’s great we can accelerate the timeline, and make us more competitive at the same moment that the demographics are going to be kind of rough in the next 10 years,” he said.
WSU’s aspiration is to provide students with the more contemporary housing they want that some of its competitors feature, Olson said. “It was 100 percent the right thing at the right time, no question,” Olson said of West Campus becoming part of WSU in the 1990s. “But now it’s a different moment. And we have to meet students where they are, not where we think they should be or where we were.”
The university also wishes to enable all students to walk to classes and events on the main campus, Olson said. Additionally, WSU would like students to be able to more easily access resources on the main campus, including counseling and a wellness center.
The move would enable WSU to cut costs, as well, Olson said. It would not have to run buses between the two campuses, keep West Campus buildings open and maintained or provide meals to students on West Campus.
Certain unique aspects of West Campus will be sad to see go, Olson said. West Campus students are in houses named after constellations and reminiscent of those in the Harry Potter series. While living in Lourdes after arriving at WSU, Olson was part of a house himself and witnessed a canoe competition between students from different houses. “There’s a charm some will miss,” he said.