A local university is embarking on its first student housing project since the 1960s.
Virginia Union University will soon break ground on the Living Learning Center, a 68,000-square-foot residence hall and student/community center. The project will cost between $13 million and $15 million, and construction is set to begin in early December.
The center will be the first new building on the VUU campus in 15 years and the first new dormitory in almost 50 years. It is expected to open to the students and the public by 2014.
VUU President Claude Perkins said the university recognized the need for additional space about a year ago. Over the past four years, enrollment at Virginia Union has increased by 16 percent, bringing the number of students to about 1,300.
“We’ve reduced our upfront costs and increased our scholarships and marketing efforts,” Perkins said. “It’s helped us bring in more students from Virginia and other parts of the East Coast.”
Right now, the university has room for 760 students to live on campus. All of the rooms are full, and Perkins said the university had to lease 28 apartments off campus to keep up with demand.
“We prefer students to be on campus, especially their freshman and sophomore years, to enrich their experience at the university,” Perkins said.
The new building, which will sit on campus where basketball courts currently stand, will house 240 additional students, as well as an auditorium and several conference rooms. The learning center space can be used for workshops, business meetings or as an artistic venue, Perkins said.
“We see this new building as a place for people in North Richmond to use as a community space,” he said. “To my knowledge, there’s not another building like that in the area.”
Virginia Union will finance part of the construction costs through grants from the U.S. Department of Education and the rest through a public fundraising campaign.
Three organizations ‑- the Cabell Foundation, the Reynolds Foundation and the Mary Morton Parsons Foundation -‑ have pledged $3.4 million to support the project. Perkins said the university would start soliciting donations next month from alumni and other community members.
Virginia Union hasn’t started accepting bids from construction companies for the project yet, but local architecture firm KEI designed the building.
The VUU campus opened in 1899, and six of the nine original buildings are still standing. Perkins said it was important that the new center had the same feel as the rest of the campus.
“The new building will take on the characteristics of the old Romanesque architecture, but with a modern flair,” Perkins said.