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Boston to Students: We Love You; Boston to Self: Where Will We Put Them?

Boston to Students: We Love You; Boston to Self: Where Will We Put Them?

The 150,000 college students that go to school in this city of 650,000 bring billions into the local economy and constantly renew Boston’s brand as the Athens of America. Schools strive to meet student demands—faster WiFi—while the city struggles to house them. At Bisnow’s Boston Student Life event, 200 guests took a deep dive into the details. The city department of neighborhood development’s Devin Quirk (third from left) says Mayor Walsh wants to free up for middle income workers some of the housing that students rent for as much as $5k/month for a three-bedroom in a triple decker. One goal: build 18,500 new dorm beds by 2030. Since the institutions can’t cover the entire tab, privately developed and managed residences are one answer. To private developers, Devin says: “Boston is open for business.” There’s a historic surge of multifamily construction and development but much of it is luxury product.

Boston to Students: We Love You; Boston to Self: Where Will We Put Them?

In the “be careful what you ask for” tradition, Boston has long wanted its graduates to stay here. Now, their demand for housing is putting upward pressure on rents, says BK Boley, a principal at ADD Inc (now with Stantec) who was a moderator and an event sponsor. One answer might be for the city to allow the development of micro-units, which are now limited to the Seaport. For Worcester Polytechnic Institute, his team designed a residence hall in which the live/learn space was moved from the ground floor through all of the upper floors. Where once there might have been social lounges, students have more room to work on group projects.

Boston to Students: We Love You; Boston to Self: Where Will We Put Them?

Trying to do more with the space they have, Emerson College is building a 400-bed dorm in tiny Boylston Place, where the patrons of two nightclubs once boogied, associate VP Margaret Ann Ings says. Once completed, some of the 750 students living in the historic Little Building can relocate while it undergoes a gut renovation slated to start in 2017. Like other institutions of higher learning, Emerson wants to keep students in the city, while at school and after they graduate. Its two new dorms will help, along with new satellite campuses in LA and Europe and strong alumni groups.

Boston to Students: We Love You; Boston to Self: Where Will We Put Them?

Suffolk Construction’s Sean Edwards (a sponsor) expects the economic and development boom to continue for two to three more years. Residential units will continue to get smaller while construction costs are hitting $350/SF to $425/SF. Suffolk is well-known for its multifamily work but also has done projects with many major colleges and universities like MIT, UMass, Emerson and Suffolk. He advises institutions to bring the construction team on early to manage expectations and keep them on through post-construction.

Boston to Students: We Love You; Boston to Self: Where Will We Put Them?

Urban campuses like Suffolk University face the high cost of land and construction—and the concerns of their many neighbors. In building 20 Somerset, a $62M academic facility that opened two months ago, the university soothed nearby homeowners who feared a sudden explosion of students by negotiating non-expansion zones. It promised to curtail construction in given areas for definitive time periods, VP John Nucci (third from left) tells us. The moderator is Jim Rogers, LeftField Project Management, far left.

Boston to Students: We Love You; Boston to Self: Where Will We Put Them?

At BU, the number of international students (mostly from China) has jumped by nearly 50% (from 5,000 in 2012 to 7,000 last fall). The economics “are fantastic,” says executive director Marc Robillard. But BU has made adjustments to keep these students happy and on—or close to—campus. It’s offering more apartment-style living. Rather than shut down dorms during holidays, it keeps them open so students don’t have to invest in a plane ticket to China. BU, known for great dining services, trained its chefs to prepare more authentic Asian cuisine. Next spring, it hopes to start construction on a $100M renovation of the historic Myles Standish residence hall.

Boston to Students: We Love You; Boston to Self: Where Will We Put Them?

International students have also influenced building designs, says Bruner/Cott’s Daniel Raih. Buildings have to accommodate the fact that they smoke and eat several small meals a day. Meanwhile, in our dense, walkable city, only 2% of students have a car compared to 98% at some Midwestern schools. By “embracing density,” architects are freed to design some residence halls without parking, he says. To build community, it’s important to create outdoor spaces that “mix it up” by welcoming students and the public with activities. To help control development costs, schools are focusing on greater energy efficiency and the use of prefabricated building components, Dan says.

Boston to Students: We Love You; Boston to Self: Where Will We Put Them?

A major goal for designers is to create environments, not just buildings. UMass Amherst’s Eddie Hull tells us his school’s $198M seven-building Commonwealth Honors College Residential Community that opened fall ’13 is cultivating that closeness among the 1,500 honor students. It encourages students to interact with each other and with faculty. In the past, students had to go to professors’ offices. Now, smart schools create student facilities with features that faculty won’t find elsewhere. A big concern—security—calls for behavioral change more than technology. Cameras are helpful after the fact, but students who look after each other can help prevent incidents. 

Boston to Students: We Love You; Boston to Self: Where Will We Put Them?

Development is a chance for schools to weave together disparate elements of their campuses, says EYP’s Paul King. These days, parking lots that divided a campus are often giving way to new buildings that unite it. A new project is also a chance to invite in the public. At Boston College, his team designed a 490-bed residence hall that’s under construction with a big courtyard and facing a public street so it’s open to the rest of the campus and the city. Creating community is so important that some schools prefer to spend more on maintenance of several small buildings that enrich student life than to build fewer big buildings, Paul says. 

Boston to Students: We Love You; Boston to Self: Where Will We Put Them?

Ask the students what’s their top priority for amenities and most say fast WiFi, says EdR’s Jeffrey Resetco. Juniors and seniors want conference rooms where they can rehearse for life in the real world rather than lounges. They all want fitness centers that are close to their residences and that have awesome equipment; the type of equipment is more important than the size of the center, says this private developer that’s building housing for 1,010 students at UConn, among its many projects.

Once again we thank our terrific sponsors; we couldn't do this without you: ADD Inc., now with Stantec, AKF Group, Avigilon, Bruner/Cott, CYBEX, EYP Architecture, LeftField Project Management, Suffolk Construction.