BLACKSBURG — Virginia Tech’s Board of Visitors on Monday approved the first of several moves to create the school’s 5,000-bed Student Life Village, despite some concerns expressed by board members and owners, as the need is growing for more on-campus housing.
The project, estimated to cost nearly $1 billion, has been added to the campus master plan. Many more steps will need to be completed before construction can begin.
The vote came after the council began its meeting on Monday with a moment of silence following the mass shooting Sunday that claimed the lives of three University of Virginia football players.
With a student population topping 30,000 as of this fall semester, Virginia Tech is looking to meet the resulting student housing needs, said university president Tim Sands. He said rumors circulating about the university aiming for 50,000 students next are unfounded.
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“The 30,000 we hit faster than expected,” Sands said. “It’s always been 30,000, wait and check, see where we are.”
As things stand, housing needs are expected to continue to grow, Sands said. Plans for the village include the creation of new on-campus housing, centered around a bank of land between The Inn at Virginia Tech and Oak Lane, Sands said.
Plans also call for the replacement, renovation and expansion of some existing facilities, in three phases over five years to add a total of up to 5,000 beds to the campus, according to administrators and university documents.
According to plans, Slusher Hall and parts of the Oak Lane community would be razed for renovation and replacement. Improving these facilities were two elements identified by the university’s planning efforts in 2018, along with building new housing for a living 21st century learning district, but all three projects were left out of the master plan. at the time due to prohibitive costs, according to documents.
“We are really approving a supplement to our master plan,” said board member Chris Petersen. “It’s in many ways a way to accomplish the master plan for less money.”
But two board members – Jeff Veatch and Sandy Davis – voted against the project.
“I worry about the magnitude of this situation,” Veatch said. “Things on this plane are not things students ask for.”
Davis said she was also concerned about how the project might affect the university’s debt ratio and whether all local stakeholders had been adequately consulted. She is the retired owner of BCR Property Management, with real estate around the university.
“It’s far reaching and much bigger, if it develops,” Davis said. “I still believe we could study it a bit more.”
There have been discussions of developers and landlords also worrying about the village plan, due to the possibility that large, privately built apartment complexes in Blacksburg will potentially experience vacancy issues once the project is completed. on the built campus.
However, several of those people could not be reached for comment on Monday.
Blacksburg Mayor Leslie Hager-Smith wrote a letter to Virginia Tech President Tim Sands on Oct. 28 urging the university to make what she said was an overdue commitment to provide more student housing .
“Blacksburg’s growing pains have been felt most acutely in the housing market,” Hager-Smith wrote. “Because university growth has occurred at a faster rate than student housing construction, housing prices have soared beyond the reach of many who want to live in Blacksburg.”
Blacksburg officials have approved construction to add more than 3,700 additional new beds between 2015 and 2023, she said. But rental costs continue to rise, with the average rent for a one-bedroom apartment in Blacksburg topping $1,000 a month, according to several rental websites.
“The city’s position is clear,” Hager-Smith wrote. “If Virginia Tech wants to continue to grow, the Student Life Village is necessary.
Plans for the student life village were formed from late 2021 to early 2022, using input from campus partners, students and the city of Blacksburg, officials said.
More community input will be sought now as the new plans are adopted into the larger campus master plan, Rector Tish Long said. Several iterations of additional board approval will be required before any ground is broken.
“I want to emphasize that this is a land use approval. There are many steps along the way,” Long said. “There are finite things we can do every moment. , so we look forward to continuing the conversation over the coming months.”