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U of M regents approve $105 million renovation of 88-year-old dorm

MINNEAPOLIS -- The University of Minnesota will spend $104.5 million to bring an 88-year-old dormitory up to modern standards. Regents on Friday approved a renovation for Pioneer Hall that will add 60 beds and create a new 850-seat dining facilit...

MINNEAPOLIS -- The University of Minnesota will spend $104.5 million to bring an 88-year-old dormitory up to modern standards.

Regents on Friday approved a renovation for Pioneer Hall that will add 60 beds and

create a new 850-seat dining facility for the four Superblock dorms on the Minneapolis East Bank campus.

Pioneer will close for the 2017-18 and 2018-19 school years. The U will make up for the loss of those 693 beds by leasing private on-campus apartments and temporarily converting Wilkins Hall and perhaps part of Yudof Hall from apartments to dorm-style housing with meal plans.

U officials say Pioneer is among their least popular housing options. Just 36 percent of residents are happy with their dorm experience compared with 61 percent of students at other dorms.

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The renovation will create larger dorms with shared community space and twice as many bathrooms while maintaining the street-level appearance of the historic building.

President Eric Kaler in July recommended a $99 million renovation that would have added just three beds. After a lukewarm reception from regents, Kaler suggested spending an additional

$5.5 million to add an additional 60 beds.

The new dining center at Pioneer accounts for $23 million of the project’s cost. It will replace aging underground cafeterias at both Pioneer and Centennial Hall.

The current plan would force Centennial students to walk outside to eat at Pioneer, but Kaler said Fridaythat he’d study the feasibility of an enclosed walkway.

At least three of the 12 regents opposed the renovation.

Regent Darrin Rosha said it’s a good project but he wants a long-term plan for housing at the U. He was unsatisfied with the plan for housing during the Pioneer renovation because it would take options away from upperclassmen.

“We’re adding control for the university, but we’re really not adding capacity,” he said.

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Thomas Devine also voted no, saying he’d rather spend less to fix some of the problems at Pioneer and save the rest for a new dorm elsewhere. The renovation will leave Pioneer’s exterior walls in place but gut the rest.

“There isn’t much left there that we’re really preserving,” he said during a facilities committee meeting Thursday.

Devine also had concerns about the student housing rate hikes - 6 percent each year for six years - that will be necessary to pay off the renovation.

Michael Hsu shared that concern about housing costs. Rather than investing in Pioneer, which students still prefer to a couple other dorm options despite its flaws, he suggested spending the money on a new dorm.

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