After five years of speculation and proposals, Butler University recently announced plans to build much-needed additional student housing facilities at an estimated cost of $52 million.
The new 181,000-square-foot apartment complex is designed to provide on-campus living for 500 juniors and seniors currently living in rental properties throughout the city, particularly those in the surrounding neighborhood.
The proposed housing project is designed and expected to increase student retention and campus involvement, as well as alleviate the increasing tensions between the university and the surrounding community.
“As in any university town, there’s always a tradition of tension between residents and students,” says Ron Rickle, a neighborhood resident since 1973 and chair of the Community Concerns Committee for the Butler-Tarkington Neighborhood Association.
According to Rickle, the large number of students living in rental properties throughout the small neighborhood creates serious problems for the residents as a result of increased parking, litter and parties.
An Indianapolis Police Department spokesperson confirmed that noise, public drunkenness and vandalism as a result of parties have been on the rise in recent years with the increase in off-campus living.
Though problems with students living off-campus are viewed more as disrespect and nuisance, many long-term residents have chosen to leave the neighborhood in recent years to escape the increasingly frat-row atmosphere.
Rickle is “optimistic this new housing will relieve some of the pressures on the community.”
Though specifics have yet to be announced, the new facilities will occupy the current site of the Tennis Bubble to the west of Hinkle Fieldhouse and/or Starlight Musicals, to the east.
The university denies that the construction will affect Holcomb Gardens.
President Bobby Fong was recently quoted as saying, “There is no intention to encroach on Holcomb Gardens ... enjoyment of the woods and gardens should be enhanced by any possible construction, not degraded.”
Fong’s proclamation, however, is based on a very strict definition of what constitutes Holcomb Gardens.
According to Vice President for Student Affairs Dr. Levester Johnson, the new projects will not affect the lawn and formal gardens immediately surrounding the landmark Persephone statue.
However, the wooded areas surrounding the promenade and Tennis Bubble are apparently fair game. They are not considered Holcomb Gardens “proper.”
Should the area west of Hinkle be chosen, much of the green space and forestation could be eliminated.
In addition to the woods, the Hilton U. Brown Outdoor Theatre, known as Starlight Musicals, could also be eliminated as part of the project. Built in 1955, the outdoor theater once provided the city with state-of-the-art concert and theater facilities, but has been little more than a nostalgic landmark in recent years.
Though Rickle has fond memories of Starlight and its contribution to the community, he believes “from an ecological and environmental standpoint, the location makes a lot of sense. It is the least destructive option.”
Johnson emphasizes that no final decisions have been made, and it is still far too early in the process to know what site best suits the construction projects.
Moreover, the university plans on bringing all plans to both the Rocky Ripple and Butler-Tarkington neighborhoods for their input and concerns.
“While our final choice may not satisfy all the folks,” Johnson says, “I believe in the end people will rally around the project.”
An increase in student enrollment has led to the housing shortage at Butler, forcing three-fourths of upper-class students to find housing off campus.
This increase accentuates Rickle’s concern that the new housing will cater more to enrollment increases, rather than alleviating the current housing shortage.
Johnson, however, stresses that the university’s goal is to reach off-campus students first.
“We’ve gotten a lot of feedback from students who do want to live on campus. We know it increases their involvement in campus activities and creates a stronger community.”
Johnson also feels confident in the demand for the project.
According to market studies conducted by Butler in the earliest stages of planning, the demand actually exceeds the number of units that will be available.
But Johnson also maintains that Butler students should have the option to live off-campus.
“It’s part of a maturation process,” he explains. “Juniors and seniors are young adults, and should be able to live on their own as a part of that process.”
The main concern, however, remains fostering good relationships with the community.
As Johnson explains, the university does consider its responsibility to the city and the neighborhood.
“We have weighed, and weighed seriously, the concerns and interests of the community.”
Though no specific date has been set for the groundbreaking, university officials expect construction to begin next spring and aim for an August 2006 occupancy date.