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Minnesota West seeking investors for new dorms

WORTHINGTON -- Minnesota West Community and Technical College has sent out a request for proposals (RFP) in an effort to move forward with a dorm on the Worthington campus.

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"We're looking for investors to build it," said Richard Shrubb, President of Minnesota West. "We will guarantee occupancy, and we'll manage the physical structure and keep it clean. We'll have student activities to govern the behavior of people in the dorm.

"At the end of the depreciation period, we'll buy it back from the investors," Shrubb added. "It's as close to a lockdown sure-thing investment anybody is ever going to get."

Within the RFP, which was sent out earlier this week, the college is seeking a developer to finance, design, construct, own and operate an apartment building.

"We're looking for people to build the dorm with private money here on the campus," Shrubb said. "We'll guarantee occupancy and take care of it. When the owners want to finish depreciating it, we'll buy it back."

A study by Maxfield Research, a Minneapolis firm, stated the college projects the need for a 35-unit, 105-bed complex. Minnesota West is willing to lease the land to a developer on campus, with the size to be determined depending on the identified location, but generally in the 1.5- to 2.5-acre range. The term of the lease would be 30 years, at which point the college would purchase the building from the investors.

"It would be right here on the Worthington campus," Shrubb said. "We conducted a study, and the study told us what style we should pick. They are called quads because they have four people to a little apartment complex.

"Some of the rooms are private bedrooms, and some of the rooms will have a roommate," he continued. "There is a kitchen and living area that the suite of rooms would share. We'll have multiple units like that."

Within the RFP, the rent should include utilities, Internet and cable and be within the amount projected in the market study. That study said most students would be willing to pay $350 to $500 per month. Most students are already paying more than $400 per month, but students in the focus group said anything more than $500 would be too expensive.

Also in the RFP, each unit is to be furnished with living room furniture and appliances, central air conditioning and Internet in each room. Laundry can be either in-unit or on floor if there are adequate machines and security.

"We'll hire a service that specializes only in student activities in a dorm," Shrubb said. "People spend more time out of the classroom than in the classroom when you're in college, and we want to try to make good use of that time, as well. We'll hire an agency to do student activities in the dorm, and try to make it a constructive living environment and learning environment in the dorm, as well."

Along with the Maxfield study, the college also consulted with Minnesota State Colleges and Universities (MnSCU). That study identified three potential sites -- north of the Fine Arts center, south campus linkway between the Resource Center and the Administration Building and south campus west between the Administration Building and the softball field.

"All of the decisions we made as far as what it's going to look like and how big we should build it and what we should charge were made in consultation with experts who specialize in student housing," Shrubb said.

Proposals are due by 4 p.m. Sept. 23. The proposals will be reviewed the next day.Construction could begin by June 2014, with occupancy scheduled for the start of the 2015-16 school year.

There have already been inquiries for the project.

"The very first day, we had four inquiries and two applications. We had two the second day and on the third day, we were around 10 inquiries," Shrubb said. "I think out of that, not all the inquiries submitted an RFP yet. We've had a really healthy batch of people who are interested in investing in the opportunity."

Shrubb said building this dorm would help the college, as well as the city of Worthington, by freeing up other housing throughout town.

"We want to broaden our base of constituents to include international students and athletes who may want to come play here from other parts of America," he said. "Currently, there's not sufficient housing in the town for people to be able to come from another region and be able to get an apartment.

"There is really quality permanent housing in Worthington, but there is a shortage of temporary housing for people to come and rent an apartment while they are in school or newly arrived residents need a place to live," Shrubb added. "In a way, it helps out the town, and we're happy to do that. It helps the town by contributing temporary available housing, and it helps us recruit to an international audience."

A dorm also leads to the college's ultimate goal of having students stay in southwest Minnesota.

"We want people to move here from other parts of the world, get educated, fall in love and stay here," Shrubb said. "Ultimately, maybe a dorm would help with that."