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New Honors College village under debate

Selena Quintanilla

The Slonaker House on Second Street on April 3. The Honors College plans on vacating the property if the new proposal moves forward.

Plans are in the works to build the UA an off-campus honors village with 1,000 new dorm beds, a set of classrooms and offices to house the entire Honors College’s staff. 

“We have been looking for a way to build a better learning community for the honors students for quite some time,” said Chris Sigurdson, vice president of communications at the UA.

On March 30, the Arizona Board of Regents met in an executive session to discuss “a proposed agreement with American Campus Communities (ACC) for [this] Honors College development.”

This resulted in a memorandum of understanding between the regents and ACC.

While this memorandum does not begin the construction of UA’s honors complex, the process is moving forward. Currently, the community and city are being consulted on the project.

“The public-private partnership that we are looking at right now offers some economic opportunities and gives us a place to build very close to campus,” Sigurdson said. 

The new complex would be constructed in a private partnership with ACC. They would occupy three blocks between both Adams Street and Mabel Street and Park Avenue and Santa Rita Avenue and provide additional resources to the north campus.

ACC was responsible for constructing the Barrett Honors College at ASU and is awaiting final approval by the regents to begin constructing honors housing at NAU.

Elliot Cheu, interim dean of the Honors College, hopes to welcome students into the new complex as early as fall of 2019.

“The new honors complex will become the Honors College,” Cheu said. He said he hopes the complex will become the nexus of activity for honors students and play an integral role in the future of the UA honors experience.

After the completion of the honors complex, Cheu said the college would likely vacate Slonaker House, Honors West and the dorm Árbol de la Vida, while maintaining control over the Yuma dorm for honors student housing.

Plans for the honors complex come as the Honors College is in the final stages of developing a new academic honor’s experience for the UA.

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“The main part of that academic experience depends on having the students in one place, where we can have programs and other activities that enhance the honors learning experience,” Sigurdson said.

The new honors experience includes a set of courses honors students will be required to take, which would also satisfy some of their general education and honors requirements.

The courses would focus on addressing a variety of themes through an interdisciplinary lens.

“The honors path [for students] really is about addressing challenges, identifying problems and learning how to solve problems,” Cheu said. “It lends itself nicely to the whole idea of what the honors complex gives us.”

In conjunction with the honors complex and curriculum expansion, the Honors College will be hiring more full-time staff and faculty.

Cheu said he was really excited about the university’s planned investments in the Honors College.

Plans are still in the works for the actually construction and design of the building, and the university and honors college are part of those discussions.

“We are really looking to create a space in which collaboration, whether it is over dining or living or studying, allows the student population to really blossom in this new arena that has something for everybody,” Cheu said.

As part of the development process, UA honors students were surveyed in focus groups to determine what they would like to see in the new complex, Cheu said.

The new space would have a dining facility—the first of its kind in a UA dorm—and keep in mind the Honors College’s commitment to sustainability. 

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Cheu said he hopes the new complex can help the college appropriate the motto ‘healthy body healthy mind.’

The complex would also include a parking lot, and the dorm rooms would potentially be situated in a suite style, another rarity on campus.

During meetings on campus on April 6-7, the regents are expected to vote to approve an increase of $125 in the Health and Recreation fee at the UA.

A portion of that new revenue is intended to fund the construction of recreation and health service facilities at the Honors Village, which would be available to all students.

Cheu does not foresee the new honors complex isolating honors students from the rest of the campus body, but rather giving them a more robust university experience.

The Honors College is examining ways to help get students involved in the neighborhood and give back the community surrounding the honors complex in order to both expand their opportunities and address community concern over the project.

Cheu laid out his ultimate vision for the honors complex: By drawing on the collective knowledge and memory of the Honors College, “we want to ensure the new honors college creates the kinds of spaces that are engaging and inspirational to students,” Cheu said, and help academically challenge, expand the Honors College’s current programs and create well-rounded honors graduates.

“I personally think the value of the Honors College is to enhance the experience a student is already having at the university and not replace it,” Cheu said.

Follow Randall Eck on Twitter.

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