By TYLER ELLYSON
KEARNEY – Village Flats is more than a place to live for Hallie Prickett. It’s an opportunity to attend college.
The 18-year-old pre-nursing student doesn’t mince words when talking about the University of Nebraska at Kearney’s newest residence hall and its impact on her decision to attend school here.
Without it, “I would not be able to come to college,” she said.
Prickett isn’t the typical UNK freshman. In addition to her responsibilities as a college student, she’s also a mother to 15-month-old daughter Adeline.
“If I didn’t have a place to live with her in Kearney, I’d probably have to take online classes back at my parents’ house and maybe have to wait even longer to go to college,” Prickett said. “I’m right out of high school and this lets me come here and pursue my education.”
The Alma native had her eyes on Village Flats at the beginning of her senior year in high school, when she asked a UNK admissions representative about family housing options. Village Flats was far from complete at that point, but Prickett already knew it was the best fit for her.
“I like having my own space and something that feels more like a home instead of a dorm room,” she said.
A two-bedroom, 700-square-foot unit inside the apartment-style housing complex provides plenty of room for Prickett and her daughter at a price that’s difficult to beat. Rent is 0 per month for one-bedroom units and 0 per month for two bedrooms, with wireless internet, cable, utilities and furniture included.
Each apartment has its own kitchen, so a UNK meal plan isn’t required for residents, and the three-story complex also boasts meeting rooms, a clubhouse space, outdoor patio and on-site laundry facilities, “which is huge,” according to Prickett.
“For everything that’s here and how nice the rooms are, it’s amazing,” she said.
Village Flats, which replaced the nearly 60-year-old University Heights apartments that were closed and sold in 2017, is the only apartment-style housing option at UNK. The $16 million complex was designed to accommodate upperclassmen and graduate and nontraditional students from both UNK and the University of Nebraska Medical Center, as well as families and faculty.
“The goal was to better serve a demographic of students who have different needs than the student who typically lives in the residence halls,” said George Holman, associate dean of student affairs and director of residence life at UNK. “We wanted to be able to serve students who have families, those who served in the military and are coming back to finish their degree and students working on graduate degrees. This gives us that opportunity while allowing these students to feel like they’re still part of campus.”
Kyle Honeycutt, who earned a bachelor’s degree from UNK in 2016 and is currently pursuing a master’s in sports administration, recently moved from an off-campus house to Village Flats, which opened Aug. 1.
The 25-year-old Omaha native said affordability, location and convenience factored into that decision. He likes having all his housing expenses lumped into a single payment and definitely won’t miss the time spent lugging his laundry around town.
“It’s simple, it’s easy,” Honeycutt said of Village Flats, which is located in the University Village development directly south of the Health Science Education Complex and UNK’s West Center.
Cacia Barnes, residence hall coordinator at Village Flats and a full-time employee at UNK’s Office of Residence Life, said the 130-bed, 99-apartment complex offers the modern living arrangements many college students prefer. It’s so popular there’s a waiting list for both one- and two-bedroom units.
“Students are looking for affordable housing that’s also nice,” Barnes said. “They don’t want to have to spend an arm and a leg just to live someplace decent. Pricing-wise, Village Flats is extremely competitive with the rest of Kearney.”
Barnes, who has an apartment at Village Flats, is one of those students. She earned her undergraduate degree from UNK three years ago and is working on a master’s degree in curriculum and instruction and a teaching certificate.
The 25-year-old said Village Flats gives students independence without negating the benefits of university housing. It’s a short walk to other buildings on campus, the area is patrolled by UNK Police and building access is restricted.
Even though the complex is home to people from different generations, Barnes said there’s a natural sense of community.
“I like the fact that we’re all connected to UNK,” she said. “We’re all Lopers here.”
Village Flats is the first building to rise from the former cropland south of U.S. Highway 30 as part of the University Village development. In the years to come, 104 acres of UNK-owned land will be transformed into an urban community that combines academic, retail and office spaces with recreational amenities, restaurants and housing.
“That’s really going to make UNK grow,” Honeycutt said.
He’s not the only Village Flats resident looking to the future.
Prickett, who is part of the Kearney Health Opportunities Program (KHOP), can already envision the convenience two years from now when she’s taking UNMC College of Nursing classes at the Health Science Education Complex located across the street from her apartment.
“It’ll be great because all of my classes will be right there,” she said.
Another perk for the young mother is the LaVonne Kopecky Plambeck Early Childhood Education Center that’s expected to open in fall 2019 just south of Village Flats. In addition to early childhood educator training and research, the $7.8 million, 19,900-square-foot facility will include an expanded day care program.
“I’m really excited about that,” Prickett said.
Village Flats ‘incomparable’ to previous housing options
Torsten Homberger has a firsthand account of how University of Nebraska at Kearney housing has changed over the years.
As an international exchange student, he lived in Case Hall, a 76-year-old building that was torn down in 2006. The native of Germany also spent some time in University Heights, a nearly 60-year-old, university-owned apartment complex that was closed and sold in 2017.
Now, he’s one of the faculty members living at Village Flats, a $16 million, 130-bed apartment complex that opened Aug. 1 in UNK’s University Village development.
UNK’s newest residence hall is “incomparable” to what he’s seen in the past, according to Homberger.
“This is really nice,” he said of Village Flats.
Homberger, who earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees from UNK in 2003 and 2006, respectively, returned to campus this summer as a visiting assistant professor in the history department.
The decision to take the one-year position was a no-brainer. His move from Oregon to Kearney wasn’t as easy.
“Trying to find a place on the market here was difficult – really difficult,” he said.
Then his colleagues in the history department put him in touch with residence life, which hooked Homberger up with a two-bedroom apartment at Village Flats.
“This is perfect,” he said. “It makes things a lot easier for someone like me.”
Homberger’s girlfriend, who teaches at Southern Oregon University, and two children are still in Oregon, but he has enough space for them to visit on weekends. As a faculty member who will be busy on campus and doing his own traveling back to the West Coast, he appreciates living in a complex where he doesn’t have to worry about shoveling snow or mowing grass.
Homberger said Village Flats is affordable, convenient – his lease aligns with the academic year – and surprisingly quiet given its location on a university campus between a U.S. highway and Union Pacific Railroad tracks.
“I thought there might be more of a ruckus,” he said. “It’s very quiet. You don’t really hear anything.”
Homberger believes the expectations for campus housing have changed since he was a student here, and he applauds UNK for building a complex with that in mind.
“They’re doing the forward-thinking thing,” he said.