By Grace King, Mt. Pleasant News
Iowa Wesleyan University is bursting at the seams this year with a 30-year high in retention rates leading to 110 percent occupancy on campus this fall.
With around 200 incoming freshmen and a 70 percent retention of students from freshman to sophomore year, Iowa Wesleyan University (IW) administration is finding creative ways to house their 560 students.
The high occupancy comes only a few years after the university was looking at less than 50 percent occupancy. DeWayne Frazier, vice president for academic affairs and dean, contributes the growth to IW President Steve Titus and other more recently hired administrators.
Hearing that the university was short on student housing, local entrepreneur Ryan Matheney opted to step in and help. Sitting down with university leaders, they hatched a plan for how they could grow the campus? student housing.
?I think with the big fundraiser they did ... keeping (that) momentum is critical to the community,? Matheney said.
Matheney took the opportunity to purchase four units in town to lease to the university for student housing. With two fourplexes, a six-plex and a duplex, around 30 students will find their home off campus this fall.
The units at 602 and 604 Adams Street and 312 W. State Street will be known as the Adams Street and State Street apartments, where upperclassmen, who have earned the trust to live with a little less structure, can live.
Currently, the units are undergoing renovation: getting new carpet, appliances, paint, doors and windows. Furniture will be provided by the university.
?All of a sudden, an eye sore in the community becomes more beautiful,? Frazier said.
The community is embracing the growing student body. As renovations began a few weeks ago and neighbors came out to see what the commotion was about, Frazier said one woman was in tears saying she will now feel safer and protected with college students living next door.
Frazier also reported that he gets phone calls all the time offering houses for sale at below market rate. Frazier calls it the ?town and gown? relationship, referring to regalia graduation gowns. ?The town and gown relationship is as strong as it ever can be,? he said.
The State Street apartments will be ready for students by the end of the month. Matheney will continue to work on updating the exterior throughout the year. The Adams Street apartments should be ready by the end of October. The university is working on plans as to where those students will be housed until then.
Matheney will continue to maintain the properties, reporting to the university if there are any problems with the tenants. ?It?s a perfect arrangement because they manage that. I?m happy to let college students live there under those terms,? Matheney said.
The university has a multiyear agreement with Matheney, who plans to continue the relationship as long as it is needed.
?I?m excited to see Iowa Wesleyan grow,? Matheney said. ?It?s a great problem to have. There?s momentum and they?ve got people in place to make things happen. I am happy to be a part of that.?
While Matheney has employees hard at work on State and Adams streets, IW?s physical plant, National Management, is hard at work readying the rest of campus. Sean Gray, Physical Plant director, oversees cleaning the dorms every summer. They go through each room, take out all the furniture, wash down the walls, paint if needed, strip and rewax the floors, clean bed covers and steam mattresses.
?Summertime is our busiest time getting everything ready,? Gray said.
With football players coming onto campus this week, Gray said they work right up to the deadline and are ready before students arrive.
As soon as the State and Adams street apartments are ready, National Management will haul over university furniture.