New student dorm opens with a focus on learning communities

Originally published August 22, 2012 in The Commonwealth Times

On Aug. 1, the newest addition to VCU housing, West Grace South, opened to students. The building is an apartment-style residence hall for upperclassmen.

Photos by Liz Butterfield.

“Over the last decade VCU has continued to transition from being a commuter school to a residential university,” said Brian Ohlinger, associate vice president of Facilities Management. “With a total of just over 5,500 beds now, which will grow to 5,860 beds next summer, we are equal to the other major four-year schools in Virginia when it comes to on campus housing.”

The building contains 112 apartments, including 164 double bedrooms, 120 single bedrooms, two courtyards and two bicycle shelters, with study lounges and community rooms on every floor. The building also has separate classroom and learning areas on the first floor reserved for classes and student programs during the year.

One of the goals in constructing the building was to create a community-centered learning program, Ohlinger said. The building is home to the students in the Academic Scholars Program in Real Environments (ASPiRE) program. ASPiRE is a new program at VCU that focuses on a living-learning community with a dedication to service, said Dr. Mary Slade, the program’s executive director.

ASPiRE students will perform 100 service hours and take nine credit hours for a certificate of completion for the program while they live in West Grace South for the whole of their two-year program. The building’s first two floors are reserved for ASPiRE students and the rest of the apartments are filled by upperclassmen based on the residential housing lottery.

This project is the first of its kind at VCU, with the inclusion of the ASPiRE program space that is focused on community engagement, Ohlinger said.

According to Slade, two similar buildings are planned for the coming years with programs specific to each hall as a part of President Rao’s initiative to build more living-learning communities around campus. Across the street from the newly-opened dorm, the West Grace North building is currently under construction. CT

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