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MSOE plans $37M residence hall overhaul, with work starting next spring

A rendering depicts a planned expansion and renovation of the Milwaukee School of Engineering's oldest and largest residence hall. The university expects to break ground on the $37 million project next spring. (Photo courtesy of MSOE)

A rendering depicts a planned expansion and renovation of the Milwaukee School of Engineering’s oldest and largest residence hall. The university expects to break ground on the $37 million project next spring. (Rendering courtesy of MSOE)

Milwaukee School of Engineering is planning to break ground on an overhaul of its oldest and largest residence hall next year, a project that follows rising enrollment and groundbreaking on a new science hall last year.

Campus officials on Monday unveiled plans to renovate its Roy W. Johnson Residence Hall, 1121 N. Milwaukee St., and expand the building to house more students. The new residence hall will be named the Hermann Viets Memorial Tower, after the school’s fourth president. It’s a $37 million project that would overhaul the 50-year-old building into a student housing complex that includes new open workspaces and private study areas — along with air conditioning, a feature that drew cheers from students gathered in a campus auditorium for the announcement.

The project is next-door to another building project MSOE embarked on a year ago. Crews last spring broke ground on a new $34 million educational building at MSOE, the Dwight and Dian Diercks Computational Science Hall, where work is expected to wrap up this fall. Milwaukee-based Uihlein-Wilson/Ramlow-Stein Architects are designing both projects and campus officials said they plan to select a general contractor for the dorm renovation in the next several months.

“We are truly pleased to be doing this project,” Scott Ramlow, president of the firm, said. “It’s going to be a great change for MSOE.”

The project would renovate the aging residence hall, which has been a “top priority” university leadership, said MSOE President John Walz. He said the school is funding the project entirely through donations, and is still seeking an additional $5 million to complete the project.

The new residence hall would expand the existing building, taking up part of an adjacent parking lot, in order to add 48 rooms capable of housing an additional 96 students — a 20 percent increase. Last year’s incoming freshman class was the largest the university has ever had, Walz said. A new computer science program at MSOE has been a major contributor to an increase in enrollment, and the university expects an expanded residence hall to manage higher enrollment.

The residence hall houses about 450 students, or about half of MSOE’s on-campus student population, Walz said. First- and second-year students are required to live in a dorm. Walz also said the cost of living in the new residence hall “might” increase for students.

“We’ve been talking about dorms for two and a half years, that we need to do this.” Walz said. “It’s a lot more than a dorm. To me, this is as much about academics as it is about living spaces.”

Planning and fundraising for the project continues this spring, and the MSOE board of regents will vote to approve the renovation and expansion later this year. By May of 2020, campus officials hope to begin construction, wrapping up in August of 2021. That leaves a full academic year when the 450 some students who live in the residence hall will be displaced. Walz said the campus will likely waive residency requirements and find additional housing for students while work continues.

Walz said campus officials weighed whether to renovate the residence hall, or build a new one entirely. Ultimately, campus leaders determined that it would have been costlier to build new, and opted to expand and renovate the current hall, in-part because it still has “good bones,” Walz said.

“It just didn’t make sense to tear that building down,” Walz said. “Cost-wise it would be much cheaper to renovate than build new.”

About Nate Beck

Nate Beck is The Daily Reporter's construction staff writer. He can be reached at (414) 225-1814 (office) or 414-388-5635 (mobile).

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