Contractors continue to plug away through the two-year renovation cycle of Witte Residence Hall as they get closer to the move in date of incoming freshman.
The Southeast dorm has been under renovation since March 2017 and is set to be finished in Aug. 2019, according to University Housing plans.
Witte has been in need of upgrades for a long time, University Housing Director of Marketing and Communications, Brendon Dybdahl said.
“It houses over 1,000 students out of our 7,500 students who live with us, so it is a major building and we have a lot of students there,” Dybdahl said. “We want them to have a good, comfortable housing experience.”
Dybdahl detailed the last several months of work over which contractors have nearly finished building a new central connecting tower as well as an additional eleventh floor. The project has progressed on schedule and is currently about halfway finished, he said.
Project lead, Adam Rittel, outlined the ongoing summer work as mostly involving construction on new interior mechanical systems. He also said finishing touches are currently being put on the new bathrooms and elevators, both set to be complete in time for students’ arrival in August.
Witte Hall’s two towers have hosted UW students since 1964. On Wisconsin recalls the dorm’s opening came amid a staggering increase in enrollment and the then-largest student population to date.
“We have not truly had a large, holistic building renovation since [Witte] was originally built,” Rittel said. “This is the project that really touches everything since Witte was built in the sixties.”
Though the dorm has been subject to considerable maintenance and small-scale updates since then, it has not been significantly remodeled since its installation, Rittel said.
Dybdahl hopes the renovation will provide the building with an overdue update, as well as keep up with the trend of raised student expectations for their living scenario and its amenities.
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“The sense is that we’ll be taking an existing building that is over 50 years old and making it feel almost like a new building again and one that will last for many decades to come,” Dybdahl said. “This is going to modernize Witte and bring it up to the level of being a really nice facility.”
The Witte construction is part of University Housing’s ongoing 2004-20 Master Plan outlined on their website. They plan to tackle a wide range of dorm renovations over the next several years, including similar work on Southeast neighbor, Sellery Hall which is set to be finished in 2022.
Dybdahl noted University Housing has extensively considered the impact of the ongoing construction on Witte residents this upcoming school year. He hopes the speedy headway made on demolition and heavy construction will limit noise and dust for students.
The largest likely impact on student life will be the several floors of students to be moved into different rooms as floor-by-floor renovations progress, Dybdahl said.
“One of the bigger impacts is for those students who have to move at some point throughout the year,” Dybdahl said. “We try to be really clear with them about that and we’re providing a lot of volunteer work and assistance on those move days.”
Moving days will be scheduled so they don’t interfere with exams, and services will be available to help students “as conveniently as possible,” Dybdahl said.
The construction began this past academic year, but it hardly put a damper on the freshman living experience of Ayaka Thorson, UW sophomore and former Witte resident.
“The construction personally didn’t affect me much negatively,” Thorson said. “It encouraged me to go outside and discover nice places and study spots on campus rather than staying in the den or staying in the dorm.”
Thorson notes she was aware of the impacts of the renovation on her freshman dorm experience before she signed up to live in Witte Hall.
Overall, she recalled her freshman stay in Witte with great fondness, appreciative of its convenient proximity to her classes and State Street, as well as its sociable atmosphere.
To any incoming freshman headed for Witte Hall, Thorson offered the advice to stay open-minded and to not be afraid to branch out, as there are so many great people you can meet on campus regardless of your living situation.
The communal component of the new dorm was a chief concern of the renovation plans, Rittel said. He cites the greatly improved lounges, dens and study spaces for Witte’s residents as places to foster the community.
“Instead of the old, classic Witte, this will really be more focused on community space and getting folks together so they can build relationships throughout the building,” Rittel said. “When we’re all said and done, those community spaces will be much improved over what Witte was before.”