Renovate vs Rebuild: How to Choose the Right Dormitory Plan for Aging Dormitories

By January 6, 2023Student Housing

Most universities still use aging student dormitories built for the ”boomer” generation of the 1960s. The facility design used to build those dormitories was more pragmatic and suited to university students of that generation. And while universities have constructed new dormitories over the years, these were simply meant to accommodate the influx of students.

That said, today’s students have different housing needs than the ”boomer” generation students, meaning universities need to upgrade their housing to meet the expectations of contemporary students.

But when universities consider upgrading their aging dormitories, the leaders usually have several options. In the long run, one overarching question poses a challenge for university decision-makers countrywide: Should existing dormitories be renovated or rebuilt? Continue reading to find out how to choose the right dormitory plan for aging dormitories.

Renovating Aging Dormitories


College student moving in to his new dormitory

Renovation of old dormitories can range from systems renovation (addressing the electrical, mechanical, telecommunication, and structural systems) to more comprehensive strategies that improve the aesthetic of the lobbies, bathrooms, and community areas and upgrade finishes. A comprehensive renovation can completely transform the residential setting for students, delivering on institutional objectives for student life.

Before you begin the renovation process, here’s a look at the pros and cons of this process.


Reduced Cost and Schedule

Perhaps the most significant advantage of renovation is that it reduces cost and shortens project timelines. Suppose the building structure is stable; the cost of conducting comprehensive renovation is basically 70-75% of the new construction cost. This is because the site structure, preparation, and sometimes, the building envelope are retained.

Additionally, depending on the level of demolition, site preparation can take you anywhere between 3-6 months. In short, renovation takes a shorter duration, meaning the project timelines will be shorter.

Add Value to the Building

Most aging dormitories lack the amenities that appeal to today’s students. Renovating these buildings allows you to add amenities and comfort features that will add to their appeal. For instance, you could add new interior finishes and an emphasis on daylighting to create a more contemporary feel that makes the space more attractive.

Enhancing sustainability

By renovating the dormitory building, you save energy in a number of ways: the energy used to demolish the building, the energy embodied in the original structure, and new energy and materials for rebuilding from scratch.


It Can Be Costly at Times

In some instances, renovating an old building can be more costly than rebuilding one, depending on the extent of the renovations. For example, re-roofing an aging dormitory requires replacing old roofing materials with new ones, which might be more expensive than the initial roof installation.

Interference With the Building

Renovating an old building means turning part of it into a construction zone, which can be daunting and stressful. Plus, there’s a likelihood that you may cause damage to the water and sewer system during the renovation.

Toxic Waste

Depending on how old the dormitory is, there could be toxic materials such as lead and asbestos that might be removed, which can be both dangerous and costly.

Rebuilding Aging Dormitories

While renovating an old dormitory may seem like the simplest option, knocking down and building a new dormitory may be a better option. For one, you will be able to design the building to meet modern-day’s student’s needs and tastes. Here’s a close look at the pros and cons of rebuilding.


A New Beginning

Rebuilding a dormitory means that everything will be new. You will have a new design that conforms to the current trends, fit the dormitories with amenities that will ensure that modern-day students enjoy their housing, and space the dormitories in a more pleasing way.

Rebuilding a dormitory also means that all the materials will be new, meaning it will be a while before you have to worry about costly repairs and replacements.


Building your dormitory from scratch means you will be using the latest construction materials. As such, you can be sure that the structure and integrity of the dormitory are sound, enhancing its longevity.

Generally, new dormitories are much easier to maintain, are less susceptible to damage and pests, are more energy-efficient, and come with added peace of mind in the form of a construction warranty. As such, you are better off rebuilding your dormitories if you want to make a significant change to your university campus.

It May Be Cheaper in the Long Run

While the initial cost of rebuilding may be high compared to renovating, it may save you a lot of costs in the future. This is because, unlike renovation, where you may occasionally be forced to conduct maintenance and repair, rebuilding ensures your building has more structural integrity. As such, you won’t have to conduct frequent repairs.


Time Consuming

Generally speaking, building a new dormitory is more stressful and time-consuming. You not only have to search for an architect and builder and a design that meets your preferences, but you also have to find a suitable location to erect the dormitory.

High Initial Cost

Rebuilding your dormitories will require that you spend a lot of money initially since you will need to buy new materials and employ a builder to construct the building from scratch.

Settling the Rebuilding vs Renovation Debate 

While there are benefits to renovating your dormitories, such as reduced cost, shorter project timelines, and increased sustainability, it also has some downsides that you need to keep in mind, such as being expensive in the long run and adding toxicity to the environment during the construction.

On the other hand, renovation may seem costly initially, but in the long run, it is cost-efficient, especially since you won’t have to carry out repairs and maintenance for a long time. To top that off, you can choose a design suited to your needs.

Ted Trout Architects & Associates Can Help You With Student Housing

We design inspiring environments that support the student’s personal, social, and academic success. Our complex level of space planning and keen understanding of building standards and codes enable us to create efficient, user-friendly housing structures that complement the current campus structure, as well as residential communities that students enjoy living in. Contact us today to learn more about our services.