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Rudley Tours Cougar Place, finds numerous problems

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RudleyCougar Place, a residential life and housing facility that is home to about 400 upper-division University of Houston undergraduates and graduates seeking “apartment-style living,” is described on its Web site as a “cultivated garden environment.”

Advertising on-site features that include a large open courtyard with gazebo, barbeque pits, and sand volleyball and basketball courts, it’s easy to imagine a setting every bit as picturesque as the environment described online. The stark reality, however, is that the ravages of time, the elements and high maintenance costs have made this 26-year-old facility into something other than the Shangri-la its designers may have envisioned.

UH President John M. Rudley, citing a desire to be responsive to students’ concerns and to advance initiatives outlined in the university’s master plan, recently toured the facility, observing numerous repair projects in progress and a host of other problems that need fixing, both on the interior and exterior of numerous individual units.

From worn carpeting to rusting awnings and stairwells to cracked concrete and broken seals, the single rooms with shared baths reflect wear-and-tear that indicate the problems can’t be masked with a fresh coat of paint. Only 80 of the 400 tiny rooms, each of which has 300 square feet of living space, have kitchenettes. Many of the units experience recurring problems with the air conditioning units, which are replaced frequently at significant cost.

Upon completing the tour, Rudley said he believes it is time for the university to replace the facility near Robertson Stadium that once housed UH football players, but now is occupied by only a small number of athletes in minor sports.

“The life span of these types of facilities is 30 years,” he said. “This was built in 1981, and it shows. I wanted to see for myself the condition of these units after I became aware that students had expressed some concerns. And, I want to see the university continue to advance the goals of its master plan.

“So, I believe it’s time for this facility to go. If we tear it down, we have to accommodate the 400 students who are living here, but we can do that, and we will do it.”

Elwyn Lee, vice chancellor/vice president for student affairs, said if the Cougar Place units are closed, the university could house the displaced students in the Calhoun Lofts, a 552,000-square-foot graduate and professional student lofts project under construction on Calhoun Road. The project is scheduled for completion in January 2009.

The eventual demolition of the Cougar Place units advances yet another aspect of the university’s master plan – creating a city within a city complete with an amphitheatre, high-ceiling lofts and pioneering research facilities.

Focusing on open space, landscaping, transportation and circulation, the plan will develop the university into four distinct areas: the arts district, the professional district, the undergraduate district and the stadium district.

The undergraduate district will feature, along Wheeler Avenue, house-like apartments that blend into the surrounding community, providing students with attractive, multi-use facilities close to their classrooms in neighborhood settings that reflect their areas of interest and study.

The campus master plan will span approximately 20 years and allows the university to increase the square footage of campus buildings to 15 million from eight million and increase overall enrollment to 45,000 from 35,000. It also bolsters the student residential on-campus population from 12 percent to 25 percent. Other enhancements include increasing parking spaces and closing Cullen Boulevard to automobile traffic.