Coral Gables

What sort of college dorm can $155 million buy? UM students will find out.

Rendering of a proposed student housing project at the University of Miami
Rendering of a proposed student housing project at the University of Miami Arquitectonica

The University of Miami plans to spend around $155 million on a major new dormitory complex on Lake Osceola, further cementing the institution’s transition from a college with a majority of commuting students to a school increasingly centered around a traditional on-campus undergraduate experience.

Construction of the elaborate 1,100-bed dorm would also carry side benefits for residents of surrounding Coral Gables by markedly easing auto traffic into and out of campus, long a sore point in the City Beautiful, UM and city officials say.

The dorm plan, which is now under review by the city but is expected to be greenlighted, is also designed to reduce automobile use on campus.

It would convert a nearly nine-acre expanse at the center of the UM campus that’s now occupied mostly by parking lots, a roadway and lawns into an activity-filled, pedestrian-friendly hub for student life, planners say. At ground and mezzanine level, the plan, which encompasses 23 interconnected buildings, includes retail space, a “launch pad” for student businesses, a 200-seat auditorium and a flexible “curated warehouse” that could accommodate special programs such as exhibits or dramatic productions.

The plan, designed by Miami-based architectural giant Arquitectonica, would in addition advance the greening of the UM campus by creating an expansive lawn and a tropical garden on the lakefront. The dorms, raised on thin columns and arranged in the shape of a lasso, would be set amid green-bedecked courtyards, plazas and outdoor spaces. Green roofs — that is, roofs literally covered by cooling green grass — would top the dorms.

“As the institution continues to attract brighter and more talented students, the living space in this new facility is being designed to meet the needs and expectations of the next generation of University of Miami students,” said Jim Smart, director of UM housing, in a statement. “By adding programming space to the lower levels, the village will serve as a gathering space for the greater UM community.”

After a meeting at the city’s Development Review Committee on Friday, UM representatives and Gables officials said they were happy with progress on the dorm blueprint, first envisioned under a campus master plan approved by the city in 2010. That broad plan gave UM significant flexibility in building inside the campus in exchange for strict controls by the city along the campus borders. The dorm complex would be approved by the Gables’ planning director and does not require a city commission vote.

“I think the University of Miami is doing an outstanding job with the functional aspects of the project and the design aspects of the project,” said Gables planning director Ramon Trias. “It’s going to completely transform the area around Lake Osceola, and the buildings will contribute to the overall aesthetic of the campus.”

The dorm complex, which also requires approval by UM trustees, would open in fall 2019, the university said.

It’s only the latest in an ambitious series of expansion and improvement projects launched under now-retired UM President Donna Shalala, who raised more than $3 billion in donations during her 14-year tenure at the university. The unveiling of the dorm plan comes just as UM completed the new Lennar Foundation Medical Center to provide consumer health services by its doctors on the campus edge on Ponce de Leon Boulevard. The medical center will hold its grand opening on Sunday.

The dorm project better positions UM, which has a reputation for older, cramped dorms that lack the snazzy amenities today’s undergraduates expect, to compete for students who rate schools in part on dorm quality. The last big new dorm project built on campus was the University Village apartments on Red Road in 2006. Since then, developers have built apartment complexes near UM in part to lure students. UM also plans to soon begin renovating its older housing facilities.

“As the University of Miami continues to rise as a top-tier research institution, so too do students’ expectations for a comfortable, secure and supportive living and learning environment,” said Patricia Whitely, UM’s vice president for student affairs, in a statetement released by the university.

The new complex would substantially boost the campus residential capacity. Only 4,000 of its 10,500 undergraduates now live on campus, UM says. Freshmen, with the exception of those whose parents live nearby, must live on campus and are not allowed to have cars on campus.

But UM said it wants more of its undergraduates sleeping on campus, in part “to foster a stronger sense of on-campus community,” according to an explanatory letter in its permit application.

The new dorms would have scads of amenities, from the auditorium and innovation spaces to study lounges, a bike room and outdoor recreation decks, as well as a distinctive look. In keeping with UM’s design ethos — the main campus, developed mostly after World War II, was the first U.S. college built entirely with Modern architecture — the dorm complex is contemporary in style, updating the climate-friendly Miami Modern aesthetic.

The dorms would have slanted roofs, ranging in height from 50 to 70 feet, and three different facade designs — one in wood, another in metal, and a third in concrete and stucco. Planning documents promise lots of natural light and interconnecting, shady breezeways and airy colonnades at ground level.

The project would entail the loss of parking, some of which would be replaced with the addition of parking lifts at UM’s Pavia Parking Garage, as well as the closure of a roadway, eliminating some vehicular traffic in favor of a pedestrianized “car-free zone” connected with the surrounding campus by a network of new walkways, the application says.

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