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Tuesday, September 29, 2020

Campus

Moody Towers South will close in fall after steep drop in housing occupancy


Moody Towers' north building will remain open after Student Housing and Residential Life decided to close the South Tower, citing a drop in occupancy levels. | Christopher Charleston/The Cougar

Moody Towers’ north building will remain open after Student Housing and Residential Life decided to close the South Tower, citing a drop in occupancy levels. | Christopher Charleston/The Cougar

The Moody Towers’ south building will be closed this coming fall semester after a drastic drop in campus housing numbers, further amplifying the coronavirus pandemic’s impact on UH as the new academic year inches closer.

With campus life already set to look much different after all classes were forced at least partially online, Student Housing and Residential Life director Don Yackley said the decision to close the South Tower was made “fairly quickly.”

“I think in some ways it was a hard because we like as many options for our residents as possible,” he said. “In other ways, it was an easy decision because our occupancy level, for Moody especially, was fairly low.”

Across all UH residence halls, even the yet-to-be-opened Quad, expected occupancy has fallen to 53 percent, much lower than 98 percent Yackley estimates SHRL sees in a “normal” year.

For a department still feeling the financial sting of offering partial refunds to students after the pandemic effectively shut campus down in March, closing Moody Towers’ south building also served as a cost-saving measure.

“Making the decision to close also helped that strain in a way because you’re not paying as much of the utilities,” Yackley said. “We’re not operating a 24-hour desk or staffing the building, so we’re mitigating a lot of those consequences with moving (students and staff) down to another facility.”

The timing of the South Tower’s closure was “critical,” Yackley said. 

But it was also convenient.

With the majority of residential students not moving in until Aug. 17-21, the week before fall semester classes begin, closing the building now means students who were assigned to live in the South Tower would not have to move in twice.

“It was a less impactful decision because nobody is living in Moody right now,” Yackley said. “They haven’t moved in yet.”

Students who were set to live in the now-closed South Tower will also not have to worry about their living configurations; they will have the same arrangement but in the North Tower.

The same cannot be said for resident advisors, however.

Some, not wanting to live on a college campus during a pandemic, have resigned from their RA positions within SHRL.

“Much like students making decisions whether to live on campus during these times, everyone is assessing what they feel is best for them,” Yackley said. “Some of our RAs are doing that as well. A small population … of RAs have decided they don’t want to continue living on campus. They’re not feeling a need to be on campus.”

Others have stayed on board but have been reassigned to the North Tower or relocated to other residence halls on campus, such as Cougar Place or The Quad, where Yackley said extra “RA assistance” may be needed.

When asked how closing the South Tower may affect the social distancing measures and other preventative policies that will be widespread across campus, Yackley put it simply.

“There is plenty of space in all of our buildings for social distancing and good practices,” he said. “There was never a need for that tower that we closed.”

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