Botts as a Blank Slate

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The corridors of Jacksonville University’s Botts Residence Hall, which for four decades have reverberated the sounds of college life, are for the first semester since the building’s 1968 construction emptied of student residents. The daily cacophony of beeping alarms, whirring microwaves, twisting shower nozzles, singing radios and spouting laughter that once characterized the halls has faded into silent memory.

Botts Complex, which in previous years has served as a traditional style all-female residence hall, has been closed to student residents this semester. All assignments seeking this housing style have been reallocated to McGeehee hall which has transitioned from being an all-male hall to an all-female residence this year, said Jacksonville University Director of Residential Life Luke Morrill.

“Based on our housing needs and what we were able to accommodate for students who wanted to live on campus we didn’t necessarily need to fill Botts Hall,” said Morrill.

Of the approximately 1,400 beds provided on JU’s campus only about 1,100 were needed to accommodate Fall 2012 residents. This number provided the opportunity to close the building, said Derek Hall, P.h.D, Vice President of University Relations and Interim Vice President of Student Life.

“We decided to move folks out of Botts because the other buildings had been renovated more recently,” Hall said.  “Last year we did put some money into the water system in Botts to fix some of those problems that we had. But when we looked at our numbers we figured it would be better for the students if they lived in McGehee.”

This opportunity for student vacancy in the building comes as a welcome relief to the tired structure which has never been majorly  renovated as well as those individuals ensuring its upkeep.

“I remember back in recent past all the water issues we had in Botts. We had broken pipes. We had some floods. We had no hot water,” Hall said. “I’m happy and thrilled to not have those worries right now. We had so many problems in that short period of time. It was unnerving.”

Although Botts sits empty and waiting, appearing at it always has on the South Campus soil, it is now a canvas for future possibilities. Informal discussion has begun amongst JU administrators as of late summer on what to do with the space. This includes going over a medley of possibilities and ideas including those that have been in campus rumor lore for years such as renovation or replacement of the building.

“I think the ability to not have students in there this year was what really started the conversation of saying, ‘now that we have the ability, if we want to go in and have work crews or have construction or do a number of different projects’, that may be on the table to talk about,” said Morrill.

However at this point the potential project of renovating or replacing the Botts Complex is in a state of infancy.

“Right now I think we’re in the stages of where a lot of ideas have been thrown out but nothing has necessarily stuck in conversation, just a lot of ideas,” said Morrill.

The major focus is finding a balance between the school’s needs and means of achieving those needs. Before a decision to begin a project can be made, if there is to be a project at all, the options must face scrutiny. Currently the university is seeking cost estimates for the building to have a similar remodel to the one conducted on Williams, Brest and McGehee halls as well as a full demolition and replacement of the building.

“The problem is that these things take years. First you have to think about it, then you have to decide to do it, then you have to figure out how and when,” said Hall.

In making this decision it is more than a matter of just what the university and students would want to see happen. The commitment of time, money and ensuring that the investment will be worthwhile in terms of benefit to the students are factors not to be taken lightly.

“We understand the age of those buildings and we’d love to come in and knock them down and build more facilities like Oak. But we have to manage time-wise, we have to manage money-wise, and it’s difficult,” Hall said. “I don’t foresee any decisions made on that project this year. So most likely Botts will just be closed while we’re working on the options.”

However, while the numbers are tossed and the ideas are mused, Botts will not sit idly by and await the verdict. Parts of the building will remain open and fully functional. These include the computer lab, athletic offices and some rooms to house graduate assistants employed by the university.  Additionally Botts will be used on a by-need basis for short term housing requirements such as for temporary camps and student exchanges.

“If there’s an opportunity to provide a living experience for students on campus with the space that we have that we’re not currently providing, I think Botts could serve as a great opportunity to do that,” said Morrill.