WKU Freshman Village opening delayed to fall 2021

By Henri Aboah
Louisville Male High School

Despite what WKU had projected, the first new residence hall in the Freshman Village won’t open until Fall 2021, the university’s top housing official said.

A 400-bed building replacing Bemis Lawrence Hall had been scheduled to open in Fall 2020, but will be delayed a year and will open at the same time as a second building, which will replace Barnes-Campbell Hall, said Mike Reagle, WKU’s assistant vice president for student affairs. 

“We had hoped we would begin construction about six months ago,” Reagle said. However, the project will not be given the go-ahead by the Student Life Foundation, which owns WKU’s residence halls, until next week, he said.

With the project behind its initial timetable, he said, the first building will take about 18 months to construct and cannot be completed by the time classes start in August 2020. 

Reagle said crews will demolish Bemis Lawrence starting in August because a portion of the existing building stands in the footprint of the first of the new Freshman Village halls. Barnes-Campbell, he said, will remain in use until after both new buildings are complete and then will be torn down.

The new residence halls on the south end of WKU’s main campus have been in the planning stages for five or six years, Reagle said. 

“The original plans had the buildings open at different times. Because we are delayed on this, there is no way we can complete construction that quickly,” he said. “Both buildings will open in the fall of 2021. We’re looking at about two years of construction.”

The entire project will cost about $50 million, Reagle said. 

“That will include everything in the project from the demolition of both Bemis and Barnes, the construction of the two new buildings, the tearing out of the parking lot (near Pearce-Ford Tower), as well as building a new parking lot to replace that parking on the north end of the campus,” he said.

Few will miss Bemis Lawrence or Barnes-Campbell, both of which opened in 1966.

“Throughout the year the bathrooms were so bad,” Drake Watson, a former Bemis resident, said. “There was mold growing on the walls and the ceiling, it was bad.” 

The new Freshman Village buildings will be “pod-style” residence halls, which small groups of rooms sharing a common area and a restroom facilities. 

While Reagle said he understands that students prefer suite-style rooms that share bathrooms of hotel-style, where each room has its own facilities, he said WKU chose to build the pod-style dorms to both save money and encourage students to interact.

“We know that’s what students want but [we] also know that students don’t want to take Biology 101 or English Literature, but we know that to develop mentally that’s what they need to do,” Reagle said. “So it’s balancing what students want with what as professionals we know are the things students need to be successful.”

“Students interact better with one another when there are public restrooms rather than if they just have restrooms built into [their] room.” 

Building suite-style rooms, he said, would have added $5 million to $7 million to the price tag of the project.