EXCLUSIVE: Central State plans $65 million expansion

Work on honors hall and administrative complex already underway; trustee vote on full project March 1

XENIA — Central State University is looking to invest $65 million in infrastructure projects over the next few years in an initiative titled Project Innovation, to include an expansion of student housing, a health and human services complex, and a recreation and wellness center.

Central State officials say they have increased current enrollment to about 2,000 traditional students, with a targeted enrollment of 3,000 students in the fall, and with that growth has come a need for more student housing.

“As we grow and expand, we sit in an opportunity zone,” said vice president for administration and finance and university CFO Curtis Pettis. “We’re experiencing tremendous growth and we’re building infrastructure not just physically, but with what we’re doing with populations and partnerships in the last 12 months,”

The university’s board of trustees will vote on the project March 1.

Central State has already begun construction on an Honors Hall and Administrative Complex, expected to be completed by Fall 2022. The $15 million building will house 119 students and will contain 65 apartment-style units, as well as meeting spaces, a tutoring area, and administrative offices.

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The university has completed two honors residential halls, and the third building will serve as the Honors College headquarters, the establishment of which was among university President Jack Thomas’ priorities when he took office in 2020.

“The president wanted an Honors College, to attract the best and the brightest, while remaining committed to our overall student population,” said vice president of institutional advancement Zillah Fluker. “We’re moving in the research field, doing a lot of research, and that attracts a lot of students — and faculty — that want to be part of a research institution.”

The university’s fourth and final Honors Hall Building, to be completed in the fall of 2024, is the last installment of the university’s honors housing. At 24,000 square feet and 48 units, the $8.8 million building will house 96 students.

All told, the university will have capacity for 419 Honors students. Currently, 280 students are enrolled in the honors program at Central State.

Central State will construct a new Residential Hall East, for $10.1 million, that can house 146 students. The building will overlook the football stadium and include a second dining hall, which Pettis anticipates will be a “highly selected location for new students.”

“Two years ago, we built Marauder Pride Community One (the new residence hall’s sister facility),” Pettis said. “Before the building was complete, it was full. It was all students who are juniors and seniors, and we maintained a waiting list for those units. We knew that was our test case.”

The university drives an economic impact of over $2 million, Pettis said. With the demand for apartment-style living, Central State’s on-campus student population could “easily” jump from 60% to over 80%.

“CSU is going to be the destination. We are not an urban center, but we’re going to build in our own little city those opportunities for our students,” Pettis said.

Central State is also renovating the historic power plant on its site into a Health and Human Services Complex for $5.5 million. Built in 1926, the plant was one of the few original structures on campus that wasn’t destroyed by the 1974 tornado, and renovation of the 15,600-square-foot building will Include new fitness areas and classrooms, and the building will house health and human services research.

The university’s proposed Recreation and Wellness Center has two parts. The first involves the renovation and expansion of an existing 14,000-square-foot facility into a wellness center, and the second is constructing a new 42,400-square-foot recreation center for $10.7 million.

The wellness center will have a fitness area and climbing wall, and will house exercise and wellness research. The recreation center features an indoor track, basketball court, and tennis court, with the buildings connected through a walkway. This building is expected to be completed in spring 2023.

“We’re expanding university access and indoor space for intramural activities, as well as practice for other sports in inclement weather,” Pettis said. “It’s an important piece of the university’s community activities.”

The university is also investing in off-campus suite housing on Shorter Avenue, tearing down an abandoned building on the property and building two apartment-style buildings with 40 units. Investing in off-campus housing, which will cost $9.5 million, and is scheduled to be completed in late fall of 2022, also allows the university to serve more nontraditional students.

“Right now, a student with a family can’t live on campus, but we see our population growing,” Pettis said. “Those housing units can attract nontraditional students, and those with additional housing needs can attend CSU.”

In December, Central State applied for and then withdrew a request for a zoning variance on the Shorter property, after modifying the project so the variance was no longer needed.

Officials are focusing heavily on student housing because there are already more students who want to live on campus than can fit.

“Looking at the needs of the community, this area is low on the amount of housing, and there’s a tremendous gap in growth next year of 500 beds,” Pettis said. “We’re already enduring a full academic semester of being over capacity. Most students would like to be close to campus and be able to walk to campus.”

The university will also build a new 19,000-square-foot campus logistics center for $5.5 million.

The developer is University Housing Solutions, with whom the university has contracted in the past to build their other residence halls. Officials said the project will not mean tuition increases for either in-state or out-of-state students, and will be funded through university partners and increased enrollment. Construction on several facilities will begin as soon as possible after the vote is confirmed.

“It’s going to be a fast ride. We’re going full speed about what we want to do,” Pettis added.

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