Handicap-accessible housing to be constructed in Six Pack

By Lisa Chung

Living in the residence halls is considered an essential part of one’s college experience since it offers a unique social setting where new interactions can be made every day. But for students living in Beckwith Residence Hall, 201 E. John St., they may fall short of these experiences because of the hall’s isolated location.

Beckwith Hall is home to students with physical disabilities who require assistance in performing basic activities of daily living.

More than three-fourths of freshmen choose to live in University Residence Halls, according to the Web site. Since Beckwith Hall is nowhere near other residence halls, it is difficult to interact with the other students on campus, said Kirsten Ruby, assistant director of Housing for marketing.

The University has begun a project that will construct the first wing of a new residence hall and also the Student Dining and Residential Programs building, which will be built where the Illini Orange, 301 E. Gregory Dr., now stands.

The first floor of the new residence hall will house 25-30 students, which is the current Beckwith Hall population, Ruby said.

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    With the physically disabled students closer to their peers living in the Gregory and Peabody Drive residence halls, they may feel more included on campus, she added.

    Adam Reid, a current resident of Beckwith Hall and a senior in LAS, agreed.

    “You don’t meet as many people (at Beckwith Hall) as you would at a regular, huge dorm,” he said.

    Michael Briede, also a resident of Beckwith Hall and a freshman in LAS, feels differently.

    “I love it here. It’s a little bit easier to be sociable because we all have similar concerns and nobody feels left out,” he said.

    However, both Reid and Briede shared concerns about the hall’s remote location.

    “(The new location) will be good because it’s easier to get down to everything on Green Street, and it’s closer to campus,” Reid said.

    The residence hall and dining area will be completely handicap-accessible because they have been designed around the physically disabled students, said Peter Maass, a project manager for the University Facilities and Services.

    The Board of Trustees approved this project because they felt the need to put physically disabled students in a safer environment, Maass said.

    Beckwith Hall consists of two floors, which could pose a danger in the face of an emergency.

    “If you can imagine that you need to use a wheelchair and there’s an emergency … those two stories can really place a lot of space between you and the exit,” Ruby said.

    When the new wing of the residence hall opens it will be open to everybody, with the first floor priority given to disabled students, Ruby said. Also, students will no longer reside in Beckwith Hall.

    Although University Housing is not sure what will become of Beckwith Hall when the new residence wing opens, they are pleased to have the disabled students near the Gregory and Peabody Drive residence halls with all of the other students.

    “Bringing them to this vibrant Champaign community is very inclusive,” Ruby said. “We’re very excited that they are finally going to be here and with everybody else.”

    The buildings are set to be completed in the 2009-2010 academic year and are part of a $75.6 million project, Maass said.