Home away from home: Construction begins on new first-year student housing

Home away from home: Construction begins on new first-year student housing

November 26, 2019

When you return from winter break, you’ll likely notice something different about campus. A portion of the recreation field that sits between the Tivoli Quad and the Student Commons/Lola & Rob Salazar Student Wellness Center will be fenced off and taken over by construction crews. Coming to life is CU Denver’s first residence hall dedicated to first-year students, equipped with a dining hall and Learning Commons accessible to the entire CU Denver community.

Based on overwhelming support from the campus community, the facility will be named City Heights Residence Hall, complementary to what will soon be Campus Village’s new name, Lynx Crossing Residence Hall. The addition brings to CU Denver what the campus has been missing: an affordable housing option for first-year students that doubles as a central hub for academic enrichment opportunities and peer-to-peer connection. 

First-year student housing building rendering of 12th and Larimer Street entrance.
 A rendering of the southwest entrance to the Learning Commons and retail area, at the corner of Larimer and 11th Streets.

When the building opens in August 2021, university leaders envision a holistic, on-campus living experience, in which students spend the first year of college building their community at City Heights Residence Hall before transitioning to apartment-style living at the Lynx Crossing Residence Hall. Along with the name change for Campus Village, the housing geared toward upper-division and graduate students is getting a facelift over winter break. Improvements will be made to the interior furnishings, kitchen appliances, carpeting and flooring, and common areas. 

This systematic approach to student housing aligns with a key element of CU Denver’s Strategic Priorities—improving student retention and success. “That live-in piece, it’s very beneficial to the development of the student,” said Meloni Crawford, PhD, Assistant Vice Chancellor for Residential Education and Student Support. Research shows that students who live on campus are more likely to persist in college, graduate sooner, have higher GPAs, and be more involved. Crawford added, “We want to build a housing system in which someone will feel comfortable for their entire college experience.”

Sofia Shappell, a senior double-majoring in creative writing and film production, is a prime example. If not for living at Campus Village, she may not have stayed at CU Denver. “It’s how I found my community,” she said. “It made campus feel like home.”

No student fees will be used to fund the project

Approved by the CU Board of Regents in November 2017, CU Denver’s 10-year Facilities Master Plan outlines essential projects that fall in line with its goal of becoming an undisputed top asset to the city of Denver. Driven by existing needs and targets for enrollment, research growth, and the need for more space, the plan includes new facilities and renovations that leverage the university’s focus on urban engagement, and fulfill students’ desire for more living and learning opportunities on campus. 

On this roadmap is the City Heights Residence Hall and Learning Commons. Plans call for 555 beds at a cost of up to $78.5 million. No student fees will be used to pay for the project. Funding is predominantly coming from debt backed by revenue that will be generated from housing and dining operations. For the Learning Commons, the university is using cash reserves to fund some of the cost. 

Transforming Larimer into an “iconic” corridor 

City Heights Residence Hall is strategically placed in the heart of the CU Denver neighborhood on the Auraria Campus, along a portion of Larimer Street, between 11th and 12th Streets. Given the site’s close proximity to Speer Boulevard, campus planners foresee an enlivened corridor that further connects CU Denver students to the city of Denver. “It will draw people from downtown into the campus and out of the campus into downtown,” said Cary Weatherford, executive director of CU Denver’s Office of Institutional Planning. “We want this corridor to be iconic.” 

Guests may enter the three-story Learning Commons at two locations including the southeast corner of the site, at the corner of Larimer and 12th Streets.

The facility itself will fit right in with CU Denver’s existing buildings that border the site. Think of the adjacent Student Commons Building—the perpendicular shape, the overhang that covers the spacious front entrance along Speer Boulevard, the vertical window walls, the red brick, the sidewalks lined with trees. “You’ll have a very integrated experience as you’re walking along Larimer Street,” Weatherford said.

Going into detail: A look at the facility’s features

The 182,000-square-foot facility is made up of three wings. Two residential wings, one six stories and the other seven stories, will feature 555 beds in predominantly double and triple rooms—some double units will have the ability to flex into triple units if more beds are needed—small lounges, communal study spaces and common areas.

On the first floor of one of the wings will be a dining hall open to all CU Denver students, faculty, and staff. Across the courtyard is the three-story Learning Commons that will house some of CU Denver’s most-visited student success and academic support services.

The six and seven-story residential wings, joined by communal lounges, and the three-story Learning Commons.

“A really good step for the university”

University leaders and students agree that City Heights Residence Hall and Learning Commons will elevate CU Denver’s campus in multiple ways.  

The new facility will add a significant amount of usable outdoor gathering space for all CU Denver students, faculty, and staff to take advantage of. Plans call for a courtyard with seating areas, an area designated for hammocks, tables, and more. 

Inside the residence hall, common lounges connecting the six and seven-story wings will provide a space for social interaction between classes and in the evenings. Student residents in need of a late-night study session will have access to round-the-clock communal study rooms on their floors. The overall goal is to create an “intentional learning environment that also feels like home,” said Jered Minter, CU Denver’s campus architect. 

The thought of having a central space to gather excites many in the CU Denver community. “I think a big issue we have is that students don’t always feel connected to the university,” Shappell said, adding, “I think this is a really good step for the university.” 

Crawford, who has 22 years of experience in campus residence life and higher education administration, is confident that City Heights Residence Hall and Learning Commons will create a stronger sense of inclusivity on CU Denver’s campus. She emphasized: “We want to provide a safe place to belong.”

Hear from our own CU Denver Lynx:

“The community aspect is most exciting to me. The thought of having 555 students living on the campus full time—the energy that is going to bring, and the spaces we are creating not just for the residents but for students at large and faculty and staff.” – Cary Weatherford, executive director of the Office of Institutional Planning

“I think it will help with morale and growth, because I think freshmen need to be around freshmen.” – Shawn Bosley, a junior music business major in the College of Arts & Media

“It’s a way to preserve what draws people to this school while providing more resources that make it feel like a traditional campus.” – Sofia Shappell, a senior double-majoring in creative writing in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences and film production in the College of Arts & Media

“I feel like this campus already has a really good soul. The people who are here really want to be here. The residence life piece is going to enhance that.” – Meloni Crawford, Assistant Vice Chancellor for Residential Education and Student Support