Cougar Place faces bulldozer
Cougar Place, a 27-year-old UH dormitory, will be demolished in August 2009 and replaced with a modern residential hall to meet students’ needs, UH officials said.
The building, constructed in 1981, was not made to last more than 10 to 15 years and will be leveled soon after the construction of Calhoun Lofts, which will be completed in summer 2009, Dave Irvin, vice president of Plant Operations, said.
"We wouldn’t want to do it prior to that because we don’t want to decrease the number of students living on campus," Irvin said.
About 4,400 students live on campus, 390 of which stay at Cougar Place. The completion of Calhoun Lofts will add 984 beds, Vice President of Student Affairs Elwyn Lee said.
Students and administrators have criticized living conditions at Cougar Place.
"As far as I’m concerned, I won’t live here ever again," pre-pharmacy senior Shauna Weigand said. "There’s a lot of problems with this place that you think you would be able to break your lease."
Weigand said she recalls three water outages since the fall semester.
Mold and rotting wood are noticeable around the property, and students said they spot roaches regularly.
"This was built in 1981, and it shows. I wanted to see for myself the condition of these units after I became aware that students had expressed some concerns," former UH Interim President John Rudley said in an October release.
The Office of Student Affairs, which overlooks the residence halls, decided after a 2005 survey of UH’s dormitories that Cougar Place would be torn down and replaced with a more modern facility in 2013, but after Rudley’s 2007 walkthrough, the date was advanced to the middle of 2009.
"It would cost more to renovate than to tear it down and build something new in its place," Irvin said.
The residence hall does have its advantages, such as privacy and low price, Lee said. Students are also not required to move out over winter break, unlike other residence halls.
"Many lower-income students don’t have a place to go, so Cougar Place fills that need for them," Lee said.
Rent at Cougar Place ranges from $466 to $511 per month, including utilities, Associate Director of Housing Sandy Coltharp said. Another advantage is that students are not required to purchase a meal plan, which costs approximately $2,000 annually for a basic five-meal plan.
Language and Culture Center student Yen-Kuang Chuang and petroleum geology graduate student Dan Coleff have lived at Cougar Place for a little more than a month and haven’t experienced the same problems as Weigand.
"I know a lot are just coming for one semester or two semesters," Chuang said. "It’s too small, (but) OK if you compare it to Moody Towers. We even have a security guard and the price is affordable."
Coleff said he was planning to live at Cougar Place until he graduates in 13 months because he likes the layout and environment. He said a light in his room won’t turn on, but he likes the single units and the outdoor walkways.
A building’s longevity depends on the quality of construction and the construction type, Irvin said.
"Cougar Place has a wood-frame construction, which is not a type of construction that lasts nearly as long as brick, masonry and steel like we are going to do with Calhoun Lofts," Irvin said.
Cougar Place was built like most of the area’s apartments at the time, he said. The new residence hall will be built to last a minimum of 50 years before any major replacements or renovations are made, Irvin said.
Construction of Calhou Lofts, which are marketed toward graduate and professional students, began in the summer. Rent is expected to range from $700 to $800 per month, Lee said.
The proposed, as-yet unnamed replacement building for Cougar Place is expected to be four stories tall and have enough room for more than 800 students to live in, which is double the current amount, Lee said.
It will be built similarly to Bayou Oaks in terms of building quality and living density, including a workout room and several meeting and study rooms. Rent at Bayou Oaks ranges from $444 to $555 per month, excluding the mandatory meal plans, Lee said.
Because many Cougar Place residents might not be able to afford these rates, the new facility is expected to have a variety of rooms and prices in an attempt to accommodate all who want to live on campus, he said.
The rooms in Cougar Place are too small and the building too old for any significant renovations, Irvin said.
"It’s still not what students want," Irvin said. "You have these little-bitty rooms, which don’t have any of the amenities that you really want to have in residence halls. It’s also very energy inefficient. The nice thing about Cougar Place is that rent is inexpensive, but it’s not of the quality that students ought to have."
The UH System Board of Regents has yet to approve the tearing down of Cougar Place, pending a full, detailed plan.
"Each project has to be approved on a project-by-project basis by the Board of Regents, although the overall goal has been approved," Irvin said. "The board and administration are very much committed to improving the quality of life on campus and increasing University students living on campus."