UA to purchase La Aldea housing

By Natasha Bhuyan
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Monday, October 4, 2004

TEMPE - Arizona Board of Regents approved the UA's request to sell up to $21.9 million in bonds Friday to purchase La Aldea, a graduate student housing complex privately owned by Ambling Companies.

With funding from the System Revenue Bonds, La Aldea, located on North Euclid Avenue, could soon operate under UA's Residence Life management, said Joel Valdez, senior vice president of business affairs at the UA.

La Aldea - a $21 million apartment-style complex that can house up to 325 students in single, double and quadruple rooms - opened in the fall of 2003 to replace Christopher City, UA's former graduate student housing.

UA President Peter Likins said the UA originally entered into an agreement with Ambling Companies for entrepreneurial and financial reasons. While the UA leased the La Aldea property, Ambling was to operate the facilities until prepayment of bonds, approximately 10 years.

Since then, Likins said the UA has learned the drawbacks of a private company managing student needs.

Due to poor marketing, Ambling was unable to fill La Aldea with graduate students, Likins said. As a result, 44 undergraduates also live at La Aldea to relieve debt, despite a graduate student population that makes up 23 percent of the student body, said Amanda Brobbel, president of Graduate and Professional Student Council.

Brobbel hopes under Residence Life management, La Aldea will be exclusively for graduate students.

Student Regent Ben Graff, a second-year law student, said although it's financially important to have relations with private third parties, he cautioned against their use in management, citing the numerous problems La Aldea residents have faced in the past year.

Last August, La Aldea did not open on time, forcing many students to spend their first few days of the semester in a hotel, Graff said.

In addition, Graff said he thinks Ambling took advantage of students.

For example, students were angered when charged $50 to forward their mail over the summer, a service which is provided free by the U.S. Postal Service, Graff said.

Brobbel said residents are also upset they must pay for a parking space on top of their rent.

According to a La Aldea rental rate sheet, a single bedroom, single bathroom apartment costs $730 per month.

Since the UA was not directly involved with the operation of La Aldea, administrators were unable to attend to student concerns. With the university's purchase of La Aldea, Graff said injustices against students can be addressed and remedied.

Michael Koss, a graduate student in music and year-long resident of La Aldea, said while his experience at La Aldea has been positive, the change of management is a practical move.

"It's nice to be able to have (the owners) right across the street," Koss said.

Jared Stewart, a second-year law student and year-long resident of La Aldea, said he's heard many complains from residents throughout the past year, ranging from maintenance problems to delayed construction.

Stewart said some residents even attempted to form a coalition last year to address their concerns through "group bargaining power."

Brobbel said when unhappy residents approached GPSC last spring, they decided to contact UA administration.

"Right away, the responses were, 'We know that we need to deal with the situation,'" Brobbel said.

According to the regents executive summary, the UA expects the System Revenue Bonds will be marketed and sold before the end of the year, and Brobbel hopes to begin working on changes by next semester.

Alistair Chapman, student body president, said UA's acquisition of La Aldea will result in positive changes because Residence Life understands the needs of students as opposed to a private enterprise.

"La Aldea has the potential, space, and amenities to become great graduate student housing," Graff said.

Regents also approved Friday UA's request to sell a vacant sorority house on Vine Avenue and Helen Street, an estimated value of more than $1.6 million. Because the property was originally purchased in 2002 for $1.4 million, the net sale proceeds would reimburse the Residence Life reserves and partially fund La Aldea, Valdez said.

In other business, regents approved the university's $325,000 purchase of land on 1118 E. Mabel St. to support Parking & Transportation Service's critical need for parking structures in the North Campus area.

Although board approval is required for any property purchase over $250,000, Valedez said the property was bought in August without board ratification due to competing sales offers.

"I made the executive decision to buy it and then throw myself at the mercy of the board," Valdez said.