Pioneer Hall, one of the oldest and most battle-weary dorms at the University of Minnesota, is in for a 21st-century upgrade.
On Friday, the Board of Regents voted to spend $104.5 million to transform the aging residence hall into a modern living space for a new generation of freshmen on the Minneapolis campus.
The project will preserve the historic red brick exterior, which was built in stages from 1928 to 1932, while gutting much of the interior, where generations of students have lived in various stages of discomfort.
For several years, university leaders have anguished over whether to replace, renovate or tear down Pioneer, which is “on its last legs,” as one official put it. Doing nothing wasn’t an option, they said, because the building has outdated electrical and plumbing systems, and it is out of compliance with current building codes and disability-access laws.
Officials say the project will transform the old dorm, with its cramped halls and tiny bathrooms, into a more spacious living area with places to gather and study, much like the popular 17th Avenue Residence Hall, which opened in 2013.
The renovation project includes a brand-new dining hall to serve all students living in the Superblock, a quartet of freshman dorms (including Pioneer) on the edge of campus overlooking the Mississippi River.
The plan, which was approved on a 9 to 3 vote, is $5.5 million costlier than the proposal outlined in July and will add 60 more beds than the original plan, which had called for 696 beds, roughly the same as the current dorm.
But some regents argued that it’s too costly for a project that won’t make room for significantly more students, at a time when enrollment is projected to grow.
“This is a $104 million decision,” said Regent Thomas Devine. “We’re essentially keeping the same number of beds, give or take the 60 we’re talking about adding.”
But Regent Richard Beeson, among others, defended the project as a necessary investment. “There is sticker shock, but housing is expensive,” he said. The housing portion is budgeted at nearly $82 million, while the new dining facility will cost close to $23 million.
The university plans to sell bonds to fund the project and says the costs will be covered by student housing payments.
Pioneer will be closed for renovation starting next summer and is slated to reopen in September 2019.