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The three high rise dormitories collectively known as "the Towers" at SIU Carbondale were shuttered for the 2018 school year. Neely Hall, visible behind Schneider and Mae Smith halls, will reopen for 2019.

CARBONDALE— Neely Hall, one of SIU Carbondale’s iconic 17-story towers, will reopen to students next fall, according to Jon Shaffer, director of University Housing.

Neely and two other East Campus high rise dorms known collectively as “the Towers”, were shuttered for this school year, after years of enrollment decline left the university unable to fill them.

“Last year when we announced not using them, everyone thought we were tearing them down or gutting them,” Shaffer said. “But that’s not the case. They're in good shape, clean and ready to go.”

SIUC Towers' closing signals end of an era for some; administration optimistic closure is temporary

While demolishing the towers remains the university’s long-term plan — they’ve lived a good life, but will soon become cheaper to replace than maintain, administrators say — Shaffer stressed they’ve been kept in good working order, with staff frequently running sinks, toilets and showers, and testing fire alarms and sprinkler systems.

Since their closure to SIUC students, the towers have hosted conferences, guests of the university and summer camp attendees Shaffer said. Over the weekend of the eclipse, the university rented out over 200 suites to visitors, at $800 a pop.

This year marked big changes in SIUC’s housing strategy, as it sought to cope with continued enrollment loss that has the university down almost 12,000 students since the mid-1990s.

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SIUC reduced the number of buildings available to students and focused on filling them, to lower maintenance costs and create a lively community atmosphere on campus.

Currently, housing on the west side of campus around Thompson Point is at capacity, with slightly more than 1,000 students. Two dorms on the east side of campus, University Hall and the Wall & Grand Apartments are also full, with about 800 occupants, while the towers sit empty.

Next year’s plan will essentially swap Neely Hall for University Hall. The tower has about twice the occupancy, and will allow SIUC to better respond to students who wish to change rooms or roommates, Shaffer said.

“We were within 10 beds of complete occupancy,” in the buildings open this year, Shaffer said. “When you’re that tight it doesn’t give students an opportunity to move around.”

The tower will also help SIUC meet the high demand for single-occupancy rooms among upperclassmen, and accommodate an increase in the freshman class if administrators’ forecasted enrollment bump comes true.

Although we’re still months from conclusive enrollment data, the earliest indicators appear positive, as the university enacts new programs to bring more local students to campus, and touts improved attendance at open house events.

The most recent open house, on Saturday, had around 400 registrants. More than 300 showed up, well above the target “show rate” for such events in higher education, according to Lori Stettler, SIUC’s Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs.

SIU Day pitches endless possibilities

Neely Hall is the southwestern-most of SIUC’s three iconic towers and the closest to the university’s academic buildings on the other side of South Illinois Avenue.

Eventually, the university plans to replace the towers’ 1,600 beds with lower-slung structures to create neighborhood-style housing on the east side of campus, all while gradually renovating Thompson Point.

But the projects will take lots of time and money.

Demolition costs alone are estimated at around $4 million per tower, Shaffer said.

For now, the goal is to continue to find ways to use the towers as much as possible, Shaffer said.

They’ll house visiting families during Chancellor’s Scholarship Interview Weekend, in February when distinguished high school students from around the state come to SIUC to interview for prestigious academic scholarships.

Current students began housing registration Monday, and Shaffer’s office has already had calls about Neely, he said.

The hall is open for registration, and students living in the tower will eat at Trueblood dining hall, Shaffer said.

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Gabriel Neely-Streit is a reporter for The Southern covering higher education.

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