published Friday, August 16th, 2013

University of Tennessee at Chattanooga students overflow dorms again

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    Jeff McDonald, Jr., of Maryville, Tenn., carries items for his UTC apartment while being followed by his dad, Jeff McDonald, Sr..
    Photo by John Rawlston.
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UTC enrollment:

Fall 2010 // Total: 10,781 // Freshmen: 1,948

Fall 2011 // Total: 11,438 // Freshmen: 2,186

Fall 2012 // Total: ~12,100 // Freshmen: ~2,300

Fall 2013 // Total: ~12,250 // Freshmen: ~2,200

Source: UTC

So many students are seeking housing at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga that some are temporarily being put up at the Chattanooga Choo-Choo hotel and convention center. It's the fourth consecutive year that students overflowed the dorms and spilled over into the hotel, but the problem has existed for longer than that.

And UTC is waiting for the state to show it the money.

The university has to demonstrate a need for new housing to receive additional state funding. UTC administrators have wanted a building capable of housing between 600 and 1,000 Mocs for the past six years.

"It takes two or three years, minimum, of having overflow before you can really build something anyway," said Chuck Cantrell, associate vice chancellor.

"We're there."

UTC has been eyeing the old Chattanooga State Office Building for new space. The state building was officially approved for "decommissioning" from state use last week, and UTC officials have been negotiating for the seven-story building.

But they've also got their eyes on other sites on McCallie Avenue.

"When to break ground depends on which space becomes available first," said Tim Johnson, assistant vice chancellor for housing and residence life. "We've been anticipating this. This has become a campus of choice, and students like to live here."

Student population has grown steadily by about 7 percent every year for the past four years, and total enrollment is expected to be a record of approximately 12,500 students.

Move-in day saw approximately 2,200 UTC freshmen scrambling to find their dorm rooms Thursday, but 200 of them ended up taking an indefinite detour down Track 29.

Freshmen are gradually shifted from the Choo-Choo hotel into conventional dorm housing as rooms become available, but the wait can last anywhere from one day to an entire semester. They play the waiting game for other Mocs to transfer, drop out or never arrive.

"Some students just don't show up," Johnson said. "We'll start immediately after we've identified those students that didn't come, for whatever reason, and start filling those holes from the Choo-Choo right away."

In the meantime, UTC reaches out to the displaced freshmen to ensure they're on the right track.

Students living at the Choo-Choo are charged the same room and board rates. Complimentary shuttles escort the students between the campus and the hotel. A full-time resident director monitors the building with a staff of RAs, and Choo-Choo employees are directed to give special care to the students.

"I call it Choo-Choo Hall," Cantrell said.

The students placed in Choo-Choo Hall fell victim to "first come, first serve." They were the last students to apply for admission, yet they reap some benefits their dorm classmates do not.

"It's very spacey," said Jordan Shrum, a freshman from Chattanooga. "There wouldn't be that much room in a dorm room."

Shrum's room came pre-equipped with a TV. She said she is looking forward to using the hotel's pools in her downtime, as well as the hospitality that comes with living at a convention center.

"We get housekeeping twice a week. They make our bed and everything," she said. "I'll get used to that right away."

Contact staff writer Jeff LaFave at jlafave@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6592.

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