FLAGSTAFF — The Arizona Board of Regents on Thursday unanimously approved for the University of Arizona to begin constructing a $137-million Honors College complex, described by the school as being a "campus within a campus."
Construction of the massive Honors complex just north of the current school boundaries is scheduled to begin in December and should be completed by August 2019. The 1,056-bed residence hall will house first-year Honors College students and, if space is available, upperclassmen and graduate Honors students who want to live in the dorms.
The idea for the project is to have one defined area for Honors students to sleep, attend classes, eat and recreate. The school said in its presentation to the Regents the facility is needed to recruit the "best and brightest" students.
The complex will be built on UA-owned land from East Mabel and East Adams streets, between North Park and Santa Rita avenues. A portion of North Fremont Street is being vacated by the city and will be turned into a pedestrian and bicycle mall area.
Gregg Goldman, senior vice president for business affairs and CFO of the UA, touted the project as a “comprehensive college to attract and retain the best students.”
The UA will enter a lease agreement with American Campus Communities, a private developer that will build the student housing, dining, recreation, health, parking and academic facilities on eight acres of land.
“The Honors college community will create the first full-service, living-learning community on UA campus,” according to ABOR’s executive summary. The Regents met at Northern Arizona University.
Goldman said, “This will be an Honors facility, but it will also be a facility that is for the community.”
There is currently not enough dorm space for first-time, fulltime Honors freshman, in addition to all of the upperclassmen, graduate and international students who also require housing, according to the ABOR executive summary for the project.
ACC will finance, construct and operate the new dorms, under the ground lease with the university. Construction costs of the residence hall is estimated at $84 million.
In a separate agreement, UA will finance and ACC will build the other facilities, including the dining facility at $9.3 million, the academic spaces at $6.8 million, the recreation/health center at $26 million, and the parking garage and surface parking spaces at $2.5 million.
The UA will fund the construction using system revenue bonds and parking reserve funds. The annual debt service the UA will pay on the bonds for the construction will be $2.7 million, the school said in documents provided to the regents.
ABOR also approved the acquisition of a block of North Fremont Street from the city of Tucson. The street is will be between the Honors dorms and the health and recreation facilities and will be converted to a pedestrian-only space.
“Working with our community,” Goldman said, “they actually support the closing off (the street) to create more pedestrian walkway and environment.”
Regent Rick Myers, a Tucson resident, praised the UA for working with the city on this project: "I know you’ve worked hard with the city of Tucson, the neighborhood groups and (UA President) Robert Robbins personally.”
“This wasn’t necessarily easy but I think a good out has happened and I think relationships were strengthened,” he said. “I appreciate the way you handled this.”
The city of Tucson has expressed concerns about the project, mainly if city zoning regulations would be adhered to in the project. The UA agreed to some conditions for the project, such as building height, traffic, parking and other issues and not having balconies or a rooftop pool at the dorm.