Snarr renovation revamps ‘community hub’

BY MARIE VEILLETTE — veillettema@mnstate.edu

A cozy fireplace, a comfy couch and a big-screen TV are three luxuries college students would expect to leave behind when moving into a residence hall. The new West Snarr remodel offers residents all that and more.

Anyone who spends time on campus probably noticed the construction that has been going on for a year – from last May right up until the first day of classes this August. Though the $4.9 million project only included the west wing of the Snarr complex, it was time consuming, and the finishing touches are still being added.

Small details, like a metal “M” to hang over the fireplace, are still being completed. “I’m trying to make sure everything is paid for to see if there are any additional funds because I’m hoping to add some outdoor seating,” said Heather Phillips, director of housing and residential life.

There were many major changes to the layout of the floors. “The first floor was completely gutted and reconfigured to be much more open,” Phillips said. “We wanted to make a friendlier gathering space for students.”

With new windows to let in more natural light, an added multipurpose room, a large kitchen area and the relocation of the hall desk and area directors’ offices, the first floor is much more student friendly.

Student rooms also saw some improvements such as the removal of built-in furniture replaced with the movable furnishings other residence halls currently

have, such as Dahl and Grantham. New carpet and windows were also added.

Every floor is now equipped with a large lounge area with a kitchen, reconfigured bathrooms and recycling and trash rooms.

One of the more unique features of the renovation are the floor bathrooms.

Each floor now has “gender neutral” bathrooms, meaning there is one bathroom  shared by both men and women.

“It wasn’t something I had actually seen before, but our students really liked the idea,” Phillips said. “It’s different than a traditional community bathroom, whereas compared to having stalls, there’s actually several small rooms.”

MSUM is not the first campus to implement this particular bathroom style.

“One of the options the architects showed was a bathroom layout very similar to what we have previously done at Bemidji State University,” Phillips said.

She explained this particular bathroom layout is advantageous in many ways.

The gender neutral bathroom gives students a different option and increases their privacy, as well as leaving more space to construct larger lounge and laundry room areas. Only having to allocate space to one bathroom rather than two left more room to designate to community spaces.

“It really did offer some things to us that we couldn’t have otherwise had,” Phillips said.

Along with increased privacy and space saving design, the new bathrooms offer some added comfort to transgender students, who no longer need to make the decision of whether to use the men’s or women’s bathroom.

“It may not be for every student,” Phillips said. She added West Snarr is a small residence hall housing about 100 students, so while the option is there, the traditional bathroom style is available as well.

The addition of the extra common space on every floor has created a greater sense of community between residents.

“ I love this floor; we’re a really close knit floor,”  said Sommer Wilde, elementary education and theatre freshman.

“We had a floor breakfast, and we’ve baked cookies for our floor,” said Jeanna Zenz, theatre freshman.

Wilde and Zenz are roommates in the newly renovated residence halls, and even though Dahl was their first choice, they don’t have any qualms about where they ended up.

Many people may be wondering why West Snarr was renovated when other buildings on campus, such as Weld, are due for a renewal as well.

Phillips explained residence halls and academic building remodels are not funded from the same source. “Housing and residential life is considered a revenue fund area, so we don’t get state appropriations,” she said.

She went on to explain housing and residential life is it’s own entity.

“We’re responsible, then, for all of our expenses; we pay for our own utilities, for example,” Phillips said.

While the Snarr project was funded from the sale of revenue bonds, non-residential building remodels look to other sources for money to complete projects.

“It’s different from the process that campus would go through [to renovate] Weld, for example,” Phillips said.

Compared to the recent Dahl renovation, closing West Snarr was easier to work around.

“We were in a position that we were able to still house all students who needed housing,” Phillips said. “It was good timing to do it to be able to take a building offline for a year in comparison to when we renovated Dahl.”

Due to higher occupancy rates and the size of Dahl, the project had to be done over two summers.

With the completion of West Snarr, the revamping and renovations are not over yet.

“We’re starting a refresh of the first through 12th floors of Nelson right now,” Phillips said. “We’re looking to give students some amenities and freshen up some of those spaces that we know are so important to community building.”

The east and south wings of Snarr will not be neglected either.

Architects have been hired to do a predesign of the rest of the complex.

After the predesign is finished, it will be available for students to view and give their feedback.

“It’s less of a commitment to do anything and more about we need the data so that we can strategize on how we want to move forward and at what level,” Phillips said.

Ballard and Holmquist are also on the table. Though there are no plans for those residence halls in the near future, all of the residential buildings will get some sort of facelift. With many of the halls having been built in the ‘60s, the main goal is to open up the boxy spaces to get rid of underutilized community rooms.

“We wanted to start with West because, even though it is sort of it’s own building, it’s sort of the hub of the community space between West, East and South,” Phillips said.

“So far, the feedback has been positive.”

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