FARMINGTON — When David Eppich first spoke to the San Juan College student government in 2005, the first question the students asked was when the college would build residential housing on campus.
"I'm going, 'Oh. Let me find out," said Eppich, the college's vice president of student services.
Continuing a discussion started nearly 30 years ago, officials at the college are now determining the feasibility of building residential housing on the Main Campus on College Boulevard.
Eppich said the college is about 18 months to 2 years into the current project, and it has progressed further than other attempts in the past.
But there is still a lot of work to do before college board members take any action.
"When you are putting 20 or 30 million bucks into capitalization, and it's going to be there for 30 or 40 years, it's a good idea to take your time and evaluate it," Eppich said.
Eppich gave an informational presentation on the project to the Farmington City Council during a work session Tuesday morning, giving councilors notice and information about the studies college staff are conducting.
"When you say, 'I'm going to put up 300 or 400 apartments in the city of Farmington, that doesn't go unnoticed,'" Eppich said.
Utilities were discussed, along with safety and traffic concerns.
"The council definitely appreciated being informed as part of the (college's) diligence," said City Manager Rob Mayes. "Their process seems to be very thorough and comprehensive."
Student interest has not been an issue with the project.
The most recent feasibility study, conducted by The Scion Group for the college, included a student survey. In the survey, 95 percent of 205 full-time students indicated they wanted to live on campus, and 91 percent believed housing is important in attracting future students.
The feasibility study was conservative, Eppich said, and did not include the use of housing units for summer conferences and potential lease agreements for oil and gas businesses that bring employees to the School of Energy for training.
In the study, Scion recommended pursuing single student housing that is more suite- and apartment-based because the older dormitory style -- students sharing a small room and community showers -- is less desirable in today's market.
The rental rate charged for the college's residential housing would be less than the rent in Farmington's rental market, Eppich said. And that's a key factor in currently pursuing the project.
Eppich said another reason the residential housing conversation has been revisited is the location of the campus and its effect on the retention rate.
"A number of students travel great distances to come to school here," Eppich said. "When students have to commute longer distances, it becomes harder for them to complete their studies and attend college."
Chris Keating, student activities specialist, and members of student government said they know of students who travel long distances to attend classes and who have slept in their cars at night or on friends' couches in Farmington.
"When it comes down to it, we probably need some type of residential halls on the San Juan College campus," Keating said. "We have a lot of students that travel long distance to come here. The Farmington market (rental) price is high, not the best. It's a really good option for us to build dorms."
Student Body President Todd Carlson and Vice President Anthony Francis said there is definitely a need for some form of student housing.
"I think it could be a good thing," Francis said. "I know people that travel more than 50 miles and hardly have any money to go home."
On deck for Eppich is tackling the finances of the student housing project with a workshop for the college board members. The workshop will educate the board about options for financing such a project.
One option includes holding an election to get voters' approval to sell general obligation bonds. In that situation, the college would manage construction and operations once the housing is built. Another option would be to allow a company to handle all the operations of building and managing a residential hall, and San Juan College would lease the land to the company.
The time frame for all of those decisions is still loose.
"It's brand new here. It's never happened before. A lot of people here on campus have never worked on a campus with (student) housing," Eppich said. "The board makes the determination. We try and follow a process that makes sense and provides the right information so they can make educated decisions."