Share story

The University of Washington plans to tear down or renovate its oldest and most worn-out residence halls, but students say they’re worried the redo could mean losing the most affordable housing options on campus.

The UW plan calls for McCarty and Haggett halls to be torn down and rebuilt over the next five years. A complete renovation of McMahon Hall is also on the books. Historic Hansee Hall is the only residence hall on the north end of campus that would remain as is.

The total price tag for the three buildings: about $376 million, which will be paid back over the years with student rent increases.

The three North Campus halls are among the least expensive on campus. A double in Haggett, McCarty or McMahon runs about $5,781 for the academic year, or the equivalent of about $640 a month.

Most Read Local Stories

Unlimited Digital Access. $1 for 4 weeks.

Compare that to the new residence halls on West Campus, along Northeast Campus Parkway: They average $8,628 per academic year, or the equivalent of nearly $960 a month — about 50 percent more than North Campus halls.

The issue came up during a Thursday meeting of the UW Board of Regents. Christina Xiao, president of UW student government, told regents that she’d heard from students that a 50 percent hike in housing costs was a big concern. She urged the housing office to find ways to tweak the design to save costs. She also encouraged the UW to include more triples or quads (four to a room) in the new buildings.

“At 1 a.m. this morning, I got an email from a student who said, ‘If the new halls cost as much as West, I won’t be able to live on campus,’ ” Xiao said later.

She said housing costs are a particular concern for students in the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) community. They’re more likely to be living on their own, she said, because their parents kicked them out. It’s also a concern for first-generation students.

Regent Pat Shanahan, who is a senior vice president at Boeing, did a quick survey of housing costs at other universities while the meeting was going on, and said it appeared the UW was higher than other schools. “We’re a little bit above the market — is that where we want to be?” he asked.

Last month, Xiao and other student-government leaders raised concerns about escalating rents in the University District and asked the city of Seattle to make affordable housing for students a priority.

The university’s plans for North Campus aren’t final, but Pam Schreiber, the director of housing and food services, told the regents that the three halls, all built in the early 1960s, are well past the age for a complete overhaul.

But renovating the aging structures is so expensive that it makes more sense, in most cases, to tear the buildings down and start over again, she said.

The university is envisioning a significant redesign of North Campus, including a renovation of the popular Denny Field for intramural sports, and extensive landscaping throughout the area.

The UW only houses about 18 percent of its 40,000-plus students on campus. It made a decision years ago to rely on the private sector to house most of its students.

However, the dorms have become increasingly popular in recent years. Currently they’re beyond capacity, with about 114 percent of the students they were designed to house — or about 796 students beyond capacity, Schreiber said. The university has squeezed them in by converting double rooms to triples, and single rooms to doubles.

The North Campus project would add about 350 additional beds to the stock of on-campus housing, she said.

A final decision on the cost and scope of the North Campus housing plan won’t happen until next year, and construction on the first building — most likely McCarty — would not start until 2016.

Alice Popejoy, president of the Graduate and Professional Student Senate, also made a plea for the university to consider building a child-care facility either on North Campus or elsewhere. She said the only child-care facilities on university grounds have a two-year waiting list, and that the lack of child care has been an issue since the 1970s.

Katherine Long: 206-464-2219 or klong@seattletimes.com. On Twitter @katherinelong.