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UC Irvine’s Middle Earth housing opens two new towers days ahead of student move-in

Middle Earth Towers
UC Irvine Chancellor Howard Gillman, center, cuts a ribbon during the grand opening Monday of the expanded Middle Earth Towers residency hall.
(Scott Smeltzer / Staff Photographer)

Hobbits of the Shire aren’t well-known for living in above-ground dwellings.

It is, after all, dangerous for a hobbit like Frodo Baggins to go outside his door. There’s no knowing where he might get swept off to — he might just end up at Middle Earth Towers.

A $130-million expansion to the towers — UC Irvine’s student residency hall named after Middle-earth, the world in which Frodo’s journey to destroy the One Ring in the fires of Mount Doom takes place — was unveiled Monday afternoon, just in time for Friday’s move-in day.

The expansion includes two new residence towers equipped with 170 units with double, triple or quadruple occupancy. The new towers will accommodate 500 beds in addition to a new 1,000-seat dining facility, five large lounges, and study rooms, multipurpose rooms, recreational space and administrative offices.

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Middle Earth Towers
A sign directing guests to different food opportunities makes reference to J.R.R. Tolkien’s “The Lord of the Rings” series at UC Irvine’s new residence towers at Middle Earth Towers on Monday.
(Scott Smeltzer / Staff Photographer)

Glenda Flores, a UCI associate professor of Chicano studies and sociology, said she lived in the Middle Earth residency hall in 2000 and previously lived in the Hobbiton hall. She described the updates as beautiful.

“I’m just excited for all the new students that are going to live here,” Flores said. “I came because I wanted to see the new facility. When I lived here, I lived with one of my friends ... and it was just us two trying to navigate UCI, and it was nice to have a community.”

The university expects about 490 students and 10 residential advisors to live in the new towers, spokeswoman Sheri Ledbetter said.

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Construction on the expansion began in June 2017. The first phase of the Middle Earth housing community was built in 1974.

“Aren’t [the towers] something? It is outstanding in every way,” UCI Chancellor Howard Gillman said in opening remarks laden with references to the work of J.R.R. Tolkien, author of “The Hobbit” and “The Lord of the Rings.”

“The hobbits — I mean, the students — who in a few days will move in and bring these buildings to life are very fortunate.”

Gillman described the two towers — which happens to be the title of the second volume of “The Lord of the Rings” — as “the most modern, efficient and well-thought-out housing available at any college or university.”

“Our students are at the heart of everything that we do here at UCI. We’re committed to enhancing the student experience in every way we can, and campus housing is essential to this effort,” he said.

Middle Earth Towers
Toby Woodward tries out a new dorm bed during the grand opening of the new residence halls at UC Irvine’s Middle Earth Towers on Monday.
(Scott Smeltzer / Staff Photographer)

Ledbetter said the expansion of Middle Earth Towers resulted from greater demand for student housing and a desire to be proactive on combating ongoing student housing issues on campus.

In April, a report commissioned by the Associated Students of UC Irvine — presented at a town hall meeting at the university — said that 8% of 2,017 UCI students surveyed had experienced housing insecurity at some point in college and that 30% reported overcrowded housing.

The data was collected through a 36-question survey that asked where students lived, the number of times they had moved and whether they had reached out to campus staff for help.

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The Associated Students said in April that the need for the report emerged when student leaders appealed to campus administrators and Irvine City Council members for affordable housing but lacked campus-specific data to support requests for city resources.

Apartments in Irvine rent for an average of $1,999 to $3,242 a month, depending on the floor plan, according to apartments.com.

Middle Earth Towers
A map of Middle-earth from author J.R.R. Tolkien’s works is painted on a ceiling at UC Irvine’s Middle Earth Towers residence hall.
(Scott Smeltzer / Staff Photographer)

Randy Yan, the current Associated Students president and a third-year biology major, said housing remains a priority for the organization.

Yan, who lives off campus at University Town Center, said the expanded Middle Earth residential hall, which is open to first- and second-year students, will be a good option for freshmen who previously might have had to live off campus.

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