PULLMAN –  A 10-year, $200-million plan to improve student housing  on the Pullman campus of WSU is expected to take a significant step forward this week as the Board of Regents consider the budget for construction of the first new residence hall built on campus in more than 30 years.

The regents will meet Friday on the Tri-Cities campus.

The Olympia Avenue student housing project, to be built east of McEachern Hall, is designed to give students a variety of housing options and to provide open, public spaces that encourage student interaction.

“This plan is a vital aspect of our effort to provide the best possible educational experience for our students. Living on-campus can promote student engagement, retention and improved academic performance, and our effort is built around those goals,” said WSU President Elson S. Floyd.

“While we will always place the academic education of our students at the top of our priority list, we also will continue to place a high priority on their social development, safety and overall well being.  New and modern residence halls are an important part of that process,” said John Fraire, vice president for enrollment services.

The new and renovated halls are being designed to facilitate activities such as WSU’s nationally recognized Freshman Focus program. That program, in which first-year students have classes in common with their neighbors, encourages the students to study together and allows the development of residence hall programming that reinforces what students are doing in the classroom.

McEachran Hall was the last new residence hall to be built on the Pullman campus, in 1971. Since then, many of the halls have undergone remodeling and renovation. Upon assuming the university presidency in May 2007, Floyd made it a priority to make more dramatic upgrades in the quality of the on-campus housing available to Pullman students.

If the regents approve the project, the university will break ground on the Olympia Avenue hall this spring, with the new building scheduled to welcome its first group of students in fall 2009.

Construction of the Olympia Avenue project would be the most visible of several residence hall projects that are being undertaken on the Pullman campus in the coming months.

In February, the regents approved funding for the renovation of the south and east towers of Stephenson Hall, which will be completed during the summer. Stephenson’s north tower and McEachran Hall are slated to be refurbished for fall 2009, with Regents and Scott/Coman halls to follow in fall 2010.

The long-term plan calls for construction of two additional new residence halls in the southwestern part of campus for fall of 2012 and the fall of 2015.

The projects will be funded through bonding and student residence hall fees.

University officials say the goal of the plan is not to increase dramatically the number of student housing units on campus, but to improve the quality and the variety of options that will be available. New residence halls will feature suites and one- and two-bedroom units with shared bathrooms.

As new halls open, some older halls will be demolished or transitioned to other uses.