HB0293 — the “UW Dorms Bill” — has passed the Wyoming House of Representatives and is now headed for the Wyoming Senate. If it passes the Senate and is signed into law by the governor, this bill, which was introduced at almost the last possible moment and has been railroaded through the legislative process at lightning speed, would divert funds from the University of Wyoming’s educational budget to the construction of new high-rise dormitories along Laramie’s 15th Street. The bill recommends, but does not require, that the existing dorms on Laramie’s Grand Avenue — including White Hall, the tallest building in the state — be demolished. The project would be governed by a housing task force, only one of whose members represented the interests of the surrounding community.
A poll taken this week by the Laramie Daily Boomerang shows that fewer than 30 percent of Laramie residents approve of the bill, which would severely impact local neighborhoods, local residents and the local tax base merely to satisfy the University’s selfish empire-building ambitions.
Why such strong public disapproval? Because the university does not need more or new dormitories. It currently has one entire dormitory complex (Hill/Crane), with hundreds of rooms, sitting completely idle. Growth in enrollment has tapered off. (This is, in part, due to UW’s own failed advertising campaign. While UW’s administration and Trustees are in denial about it, the gender-specific slogan “The World Needs More Cowboys” has turned off a significant number of college-bound women, who represent the majority of its prospective customers.) And to build the “luxurious” new dorms the university administration fancies would divert funds from the university’s constitutionally mandated mission — education — to a superfluous side business. At the same time, it would blight a residential neighborhood and erect tall buildings overshadowing Laramie’s one historic public cemetery. The creation of yet more valuable and expensive housing which is off the tax rolls would harm Albany County’s already weak tax base, and the closing of 15th Street (which the bill intentionally does not disallow) would split Laramie down the middle for more than a mile.
The parking provision of the bill has a loophole that is likewise a mile wide — one that would allow UW to satisfy it by constructing one single new parking space rather than a parking garage that is already needed even for the existing dormitories (and would be even more needed for anything new). The bill also proposes destroying the existing parking near the Wyoming Union, making it nearly impossible for visitors and those doing business with the university to find parking anywhere near it.
Finally, the bill would harm local residents — people whom the Legislature is supposed to represent — for the sake of a selfish, corporation-like entity whose greed citizens count on our elected officials to rein in. By severely impacting the tax base that supports vital services in the community, and using citizens’ own tax dollars to compete unfairly with the rental housing in which so many of them have invested, it would destroy their retirement savings and greatly harm the quality of life in Laramie. Residents are particularly concerned that, once the additional housing is constructed, the university (which already ties its housing services to its educational services by requiring freshmen to live in the dorms) will move ahead with proposed plans to require this of sophomores as well, further impacting the local tax base and local providers of rental housing.
The state’s interests, the community’s interests and (ironically) UW’s own mission would be best served by a very different plan: replacing the Hill and Crane dormitories with a multilevel parking garage while performing economical overhauls of White and McIntyre halls. All Wyoming residents should insist that UW go back to the drawing board and — rather than wasting our tax money and compromising the quality of instruction at our one state university — come up with a sensible, economical plan that does not pit UW’s greed, flamboyance and extravagant ambitions against the interests of citizens.