ARLINGTON – Students at UT Arlington are settling into new dorms and apartments as the university gives itself a radical makeover aimed at changing its perception as a commuter school.
Monday marked the opening day for the new Vandergriff Hall dorm. Named for former Arlington Mayor and Tarrant County Judge Tom Vandergriff, the hall will hold 500 students and offers private bathrooms in each two-person room.
"They've really stepped it up," one mother marveled. "We've toured a number of colleges and they didn't have anything like this."
"I really love it. It's like an apartment," said freshman bio major Elissa Dunlap.
The building is sleek, with a high tech feel inside and out, complete with plenty of flat screen televisions in common areas. Washing machines will even text students when their loads are done.
The new 7,000 seat College Park Center is across the street; Grammy nominated rapper Drake has performed there and U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder spoke at the new stadium earlier this year. New pizza, taco and yogurt shops line the sidewalk below.
New loft apartments abut the street next door to the dorm, opening up room for 100 more students on campus. A new parking garage also adds 1,800 spaces.
"It's just incredible," says University of Texas at Arlington student Betsy Wolfskill. "We're bringing in so many more new students. Building up the population here on campus. Really great."
Right or wrong, UTA has always been considered a commuter school. Officials say the revamp will make a huge difference in shifting that perception.
"I would say probably over 10,000 students are living just within a five minute walk or so of the campus," said Frank Lamas, vice president of student affairs.
That's nearly a third of the student population, which has grown by a whopping 34 percent in the last five years.
"People have gotten the word over the last several years that UTA has transformed itself," Lamas said.