For 18-year-old Victoria Denestan, Thursday marked another day closer to the big move from her mother’s home to her new dorm room at the University of North Texas at Dallas.
The incoming freshman is one of 93 students who will fill the beds of the first residence hall on the southeast Oak Cliff campus.
"It’s way different than I thought," Denestan, who plans to study psychology, said as she surveyed the building with her mother and grandmother Thursday. "Not bad at all."
Denestan was one of dozens of students who stood behind UNT-Dallas President Bob Mong and UNT System Chancellor Lee Jackson during a ribbon-cutting ceremony for the 120-bed dorm.
"Up to this point we’ve been a commuter campus, so adding this dimension, the first step of this mission to also house students, will change the personality of the campus," Mong, the former editor of The Dallas Morning News, said before the ceremony. "We’re already planning future residence halls."
The president and chancellor were joined by state Sen. Royce West, D-Dallas, and U.S. Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson, D-Dallas.
West had visions for the university since 1997, when he introduced a bill with state Rep. Helen Giddings, D-DeSoto, to authorize a commission to study the creation of a university in southern Dallas County. The bill was vetoed by Gov. George W. Bush, but a system center was approved by the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board in 1999.
In 2001, Gov. Rick Perry signed a bill that formally created an independent UNT-Dallas.
The university, made up of 3,000 students, also has an accredited law school in downtown Dallas. A $63 million student center is expected to be completed in fall 2018, and West has high hopes for the school’s future.
"I think that this university will ultimately be 25,000 to 30,000 students," he said.
Jackson agreed, saying the growth of Dallas’ community colleges has proved that a public university in southern Dallas will succeed.
"There is an appetite by students and by the community for higher education evidenced by our community colleges," the chancellor said.
Jackson had hoped to build a residence hall as quickly as possible.
"Universities that started out solely as commuter schools find it’s harder 20, 30 years later to come back and try to change the perception of high school students in the community," he said. "I wanted us to change that perception as quickly as we could."
The 27,000-square-foot residence hall has 12 double-occupancy rooms and 96 single-occupancy, all with shared bathrooms. S&G Joint Venture constructed the building on an $8.1 million budget.
So far, 67 women and 26 men are slated to move in, according to the school. Eighty residents are first-year students, nine are returning UNT-Dallas students and four are transfer students. Rooms are approximately $4,500 to $5,000 per semester and include a meal plan, a spokesman for the system said.
Four students will be resident assistants in the dorm — one for each floor. Elizabeth Galvan, a junior studying hospitality management, applied for the RA position because she wanted to be part of the university’s growth.
"It’s just amazing," she said about finally seeing the building. "It’s just great that we get to be at the forefront of an amazing change on the campus."
FEATURED PHOTO: Elizabeth Galvan, 20, a junior at UNT-Dallas, will be staying in a new dorm room like this one in the fall.
David Woo/The Dallas Morninig News