November 13, 2014

Live/Work/Play on Campus Too

When it comes to dorms and life on campus, students are the innovators. What schools offer them--and how students react--can affect an institution's financial performance for years to come, say the panelists at Bisnow's 5th Annual Student Housing Summit held at the Westin Waterfront yesterday.

Live/work/play, collaboration and the 24/7 lifestyle are as important on campus as they are in the office. To attract students, colleges want facilities and campuses that support these trends, re-enforce their brand, are welcoming and connect with students in a real way, says Bruner/Cott principal Daniel Raih (fourth on right) whose firm designed BU's $55M, 122k SF Yawkey Center where students and alum can dine, study writing and meet with advisers. A big challenge is how to renovate the monolithic concrete buildings of the '60s and '70s to express contemporary preferences, Dan told our 200 Summit guests. 

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At UMass, its $3.1B capital improvement plan may soon bring the Boston campus its first dorm--1,000 beds. For upperclassmen, apartment-style living is a must-have, says UMass Building Authority executive director Patricia Filippone. Cosmopolitan dining menus include sushi as well as burgers, farm-to-table fresh. Student centers offer one stop shopping; a place where kids can live, eat, register, pay bills and hold meetings. Classrooms are flexible with movable seating for small workshops and larger seminars. The UMBA has underway 45 projects valued at $1.4B, including $800M on the Boston and Lowell campuses. 

Emerson College has the advantage of an increasingly popular location in the downtown Theater District, which means enrollment is up. It also means that space to expand is scarce making apartment-style residence halls a heavy lift, says AVP Jay Phillips. The college houses 52% of its 3,660 undergrads but is aiming for 70% to meet Mayor Walsh's expectation that colleges and universities accommodate more students on campus to free up neighborhood housing for families. In the spring, Emerson may start construction on an 18-story, 375-bed to 400-bed dorm at 1-3 Boylston Place.

Graduate students, many of whom may be married or come from abroad, have a different set of needs, says EdR's Jeffrey Resetco (fifth on right). They want privacy, a quiet place to study and fully equipped kitchens. But siting a residence hall in Boston can be challenging. It's a political exercise to align the interests of developer, school, students, parents and neighbors, Jeffrey says. Construction in dense, highly trafficked urban neighborhoods takes special skill, says Suffolk Construction VP Frank Craemer (sixth on right). Still, next month it expects to complete Boston's first privately developed residence hall on St Botolph Street, Phoenix Property Co's 723-bed, $130M GrandMarc, which will serve Northeastern University.   

Since Mayor Walsh took office in January, Boston College has planned two new buildings including a $100M, 490-bed dorm, a pace much faster than before, says BC VP of Government Relations Tom Keady. There's a totally new environment at City Hall that's making new development easier to launch, he says. Students have 24/7 schedules because they don't sleep. That's one reason why they want mixed-use housing, where they eat, meet, go to the gym and study. Tom's most memorable college experience: his graduation party. It was a gigantic bash because his family doubted he would graduate from high school, let alone college. Guest of honor: St Jude, patron of hopeless causes. Thank you St Jude. He's doing great! 

The educational success of students is not determined by their housing but by bringing faculty into their lives in a meaningful way, says BU executive director Marc Robillard. Still, aligning enrollment strategy with housing and the university's academic plan is critical and has tremendous financial implications. When BU—and other schools—house students on campus, those people are more engaged with the BU community during school and tend to remain close to the institution as alums. After building some spectacular new facilities, Marc says it's urgent that BU address lots of deferred maintenance.

 The new living model is less personal space, more communal space. The aim: help students optimize the opportunity for peer learning and networking for future jobs, says ADD Inc Stantec principal Tamara Roy who with B K Boley designed the new Mass College of Art building on Huntington Avenue (Suffolk did the construction).  Doing laundry? Don't just listen to your iPod. Use the game room next to the laundry to get to know other kids. There's tremendous untapped potential in developing housing for Boston graduate students; only 20% of them live on campus, Tamara says. One idea to defray some cost: off-campus private housing where a few schools share the expense.

It's essential to provide the amenities that students request and to balance their preferences with the school's finances, says Suffolk University VP John Nucci. But with its campus straddling historic Beacon Hill and busy Government Center, affordable expansion sites are rare. Suffolk might consider locating some facilities on transit lines outside of downtown, he says. As concepts for housing and campus life evolve, John says that Suffolk wants the professionals who plan, design and build facilities to help the university think through the next steps.

We heartily thank our event sponsors: Cohn Reznick, ADD Inc Stantec, CORT, PCI, Bruner/Cott, Cube 3, Suffolk Construction and our moderators Cohn Reznick's Jim Naber (panel 1) and Jack Callahan (panel 2). Awesome job!

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Spire Creative (Clouds) BOS
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