UPDATE: University Village, day care to be demolished, MU officials announce

Wednesday, March 12, 2014 | 11:13 p.m. CDT; updated 9:25 a.m. CDT, Thursday, March 13, 2014
Parents of children at MU's Student Parent Center attended a closed meeting Wednesday to discuss the future of the child care facility.

COLUMBIA — The University Village apartments will close June 30 and be demolished shortly after, MU announced Wednesday.    

People who live at the apartment complex and parents whose children attend the Student Parent Center day care there were notified of the plans by MU officials at two separate meetings.

Residents will be allowed to break their leases between now and June 30 without penalty. The university will help people find alternative housing or child care, according to a release from MU News Bureau.

The structural integrity of the University Village buildings came into question after part of a walkway collapsed at Building 707 on Feb. 22, killing Lt. Bruce Britt of the Columbia Fire Department as he responded to a structural emergency there. In the wake of that event and because of the cost of renovating the buildings, MU has decided to tear them down.

"The decision has been made that the amount of money we would have to reinvest in those facilities to renovate them or replace them would be at a price that'd be well beyond what our students could afford," Frankie Minor, MU's director of residential life, told University Village residents. Renovating the buildings could cause rents to double or triple, he said.

According to MU's 2008 Graduate and Family Housing Master Plan, the buildings had structural damage and renovating them would require nearly complete demolition and replacement at an estimated cost of more than $15 million.

Minor told the residents that engineers have deemed the buildings safe for now. 

"We would not let you occupy those facilities if we didn't believe that they were safe," he said. 

The residents' meeting

The media were barred from both meetings, but according to a resident who recorded the meeting for the Missourian, Minor told residents that based on anticipated and routine vacancies, the university would probably have enough space to accommodate them at other facilities. What wasn’t known was whether those facilities would meet the needs of the current residents, some of whom are married and have children.

“So if we look at just the number of facilities, the numbers should work out, but until we better understand what your needs are on an individual basis, we won't be able to know where we’ll be able to accommodate you and in what types of facilities," he said. 

University Village had 109 residents at the time of the collapse, according to previous Missourian reporting. The 18 people who lived in Building 707 were moved to other university housing, hotels or residential homes.

Rebekah Teller, a graduate student at MU and resident in Building 602, said after the meeting that she felt safe at University Village and liked living there. She said she'd been taken care of by the university and that communication with the university had been good.

“My first default is to go to the next best university housing because it’s the easiest, simplest thing,” Teller said.

Chinchao Suriyakul, a graduate student at MU who also lives in Building 602, said he was happy with the decision to close the apartments and said it was prudent after the walkway collapse. He said he felt unsafe after the incident and unsure if the wooden supports installed beneath the walkways were adequate.

He said he doesn't know where he is going to live and isn't sure if he will terminate his lease with University Village.

Minor said residents can indicate their housing preferences when they file for transfer, but he didn't know when preferred spaces will become available. Residents with families will be given first priority, he said, followed by those who have lived at University Village the longest.

University Village is one of four apartment complexes intended for older students, graduate students and families. The other three are Manor House, Tara Apartments and University Heights.

The day care meeting

During the residents' meeting, a parents' meeting was taking place at the Student Parent Center, the day care at University Village. MU spokesman Christian Basi said Chancellor R. Bowen Loftin will be consulting with several campus organizations about the future of the day care, located in Building 602.

Basi said no particular locations are under consideration, and he said that is one of the things yet to be discussed.

After the collapse, parents whose children attend the day care raised concerns about the future of the center, asking that it be kept open but moved away from University Village. According to the MU News Bureau release, 29 children are currently enrolled at the day care.

Naomi Clark, a graduate student and parent whose children attend the day care, said before the meeting that she didn't know what to expect. She said she was keeping her expectations low.

After the meeting with Heath Immel, associate director of the Missouri Student Unions, and Jeff Zeilenga, assistant vice chancellor for student affairs, and others, Clark said she felt angry, betrayed and impatient.

"As long as I am able, I will petition the university to do the right thing," Clark said.

Clark said she and the Association of Parenting Students have been asking MU for five years about the future of the day care and have not received any answers.

Kimberly Bodner, a graduate student and parent, said she was surprised that a decision had been made so quickly, especially since no plans for the future had been put in place for residents or parents.

Parents were able to voice their concerns, but Bodner said she wasn't sure if those concerns would be addressed.

Bodner and her husband are still searching for a new child care facility for their son. She said some of the places were as much as or cheaper than the center but location, part-time care and child-to-caretaker ratio were still major factors to consider.

A history of problems

Wednesday was not the first time the idea of demolishing the nearly 60-year-old complex has been raised. An MU housing plan from 2008 recommended University Village be vacated and demolished by 2011, determining that it would be too expensive to renovate. The report identified walkways, such as the one that collapsed Feb. 22, as safety hazards.

The university chose to keep the complex open because of its low cost, proximity to campus and family atmosphere, Basi said in an interview on March 5.

After the collapse, an inspection by Trabue, Hansen and Hinshaw Inc., a local structural engineering firm hired by MU, identified three other walkways in danger of "catastrophic collapse," according to the firm's reports. Wooden beams have been installed under all University Village walkways to provide extra stability and allow residents to continue living there.

Additional lateral braces will be installed beneath several other walkways within the next few days, Minor told residents Wednesday night. He said engineers have been going to University Village a couple times a week to re-inspect the walkways and make sure they're safe. 

Minor said he was told by the engineers that the concrete failure that caused the walkway of Building 707 to collapse could not have been predicted even a day before it happened.   

Beyond demolition, the future of the property now occupied by University Village is uncertain. Minor told residents that it was too early to tell what would happen to the property.

"The current plans are to at least, at the current stage, to demolish the buildings once they're vacated, and then we'll be determine what is the best use of that property for re-use for the university," he said.

Supervising editor is Katherine Reed.

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