Housing, the Big Picture
A Q&A with housing director Marc Robillard| From BU Today | By Robin Berghaus
In the slide show above, take a walk around campus housing.
This week, 960 students moved into Boston University’s newest residence hall at 33 Harry Agganis Way, on the street named after Red Sox first baseman Agganis (SED’54), BU’s most celebrated athlete. And no, it’s not coincidence that the street address and the number Agganis wore on his jersey are identical.
That said, the new building’s formal name seems unlikely to stick; pretty much everyone has adopted the nickname StuV2 for the new high rise.
With its opening this week, the University’s student housing capacity has increased dramatically; approximately 75 percent of undergraduates now live on campus. Local hotels, such as Cambridge’s Hyatt Regency and Brookline’s Holiday Inn, which formerly accommodated students shut out of campus housing, are not in the mix this fall; the overflow is over. Bostonia checked in with Marc Robillard, BU’s director of housing, about the addition of 33 Harry Agganis Way and how the eclectic mix of housing owned by the University is meeting student demand.
Bostonia: How does 33 Harry Agganis Way fit into the big picture of the Student Village construction project?
Robillard: The building at 33 Harry Agganis Way is part of what we think will be a three-phase project at the Student Village that will house up to 2,300 people.
The first phase, at 10 Buick Street, houses 817 occupants, and this phase, at 33 Harry Agganis Way, houses 960 — roughly 25 percent sophomores, 50 percent juniors, and 25 percent seniors. We haven’t designed the third building yet, but it will more than likely have apartment-style accommodations to attract students currently living off-campus, with an additional 523 beds.
The new residence is a single building with two elements. The first is a 26-story section that contains apartment-style accommodations, housing 396. The second element is a 19-story section that contains 8-person suites, housing 544.
The suite-style accommodations were designed for students leaving the dormitories at West Campus and Warren Towers, who tend to have larger social groups. We designed eight-person suites that would allow larger groups to stay together.
Also, we have a lot of pressure to provide more single bedrooms. All of the bedrooms in the apartments, and some suites, provide for single occupancy.
How was 33 Harry Agganis Way designed for students’ changing needs?
Throughout the building there are study rooms, large and small, to accommodate individuals and groups. Some contain 60-inch plasma screens that can be hooked up to laptops, so students can work on their presentations collaboratively and watch videos. It’s our first entirely wireless building, so students can roam with laptops.
There’s a media room with a 65-inch plasma TV connected to BU cable and two music practice rooms, each with a piano. It’s the first building on campus that has a laundry room with a view — Nickerson Field.
The 26th floor has unbelievable panoramic views of Boston, Cambridge, and Brookline. And it’s on the knuckle of the Charles River, so it has a great river view. This space is open for the greater Boston University community and can be reserved for meetings.
The colors and furniture are warm, comfortable, and inviting, a lot nicer than in traditional dormitories designed over the years.
Student artwork appears in gallery spaces on the first and second floors. Currently, paintings are being exhibited, but we’re open to different types of art, such as digital art. It’s a great opportunity for student artists.
Another one of our initiatives is sustainability. When you walk in the building, you notice the ceiling is bamboo, a rapidly renewable resource. The roofing materials are highly reflective, and windows are made with coated glass to filter out UV rays. That reduces the heat-island effect and in turn reduces our cooling requirements.
Most rooms have occupancy sensors that turn off lights and power down mechanical systems that control cooling and heating when no one is in the room.
Finally, there are dual flush toilets that use more or less water depending on if the waste is liquid or solid. There are also recycling areas.
Will the University need to use hotels again?
If we can push up our demand for housing, we may house students in hotels again, so we can build the final phase of the Student Village. I think we’ve met our demand for undergraduate housing for the next two years. After that, we’ll be at capacity. It’s just a matter of how much over capacity we can get. We’re not increasing enrollment, so we’re trying to house more and more of our undergraduate population.
Will more options draw more graduate students to on-campus housing?
I think we’ve saturated that market. The off-campus housing market around the Charles River Campus is softening due to increased supply. I’ve been told the vacancy rate could be 5 to 9 percent, which is high. And off-campus apartment rents are dropping.
The undergraduate housing office is accommodating 183 graduate students this year, but it has a capacity of 224.
How is housing expansion affecting the University’s financial status?
By expanding we’re not going to lose money. We’re going to make wise decisions regarding construction, investment, and pricing. But I don’t think we’re building more on-campus housing for financial gain.
We know students who live on campus tend to have higher GPAs, are more socially involved, and have a greater sense of school spirit. And we think it’s better for the city, so students are not competing with working people for places to live. We’re housing 75 percent of our undergraduates now, but eventually we want to house 80 percent or even more.
Are there plans for expansion?
We have no plans to expand beyond the third phase of the Student Village.
What we have to do now is look at our existing inventory and reinvest in these buildings. Many are old and need to be renovated. They were built for a time when you were fortunate to have an electric typewriter, not for today’s college student.
What kinds of renovations are on the agenda?
In the summer of 2008, we renovated the east tower of The Towers at 140 Bay State Road. I call it the extreme makeover, because we gutted the rooms, reconfigured closets, and replaced furniture, carpeting, lighting, and window treatments to provide a more modern living environment.
All of our capital projects were frozen in 2009, so we hope to renovate the west tower of The Towers in the summer of 2010.
Then we’d like to renovate West Campus and Warren Towers, our buildings that were once hotels (Myles Standish and Shelton), and brownstones as money allows.
We’ve renovated about two-thirds of the brownstones on Bay State Road. They’re fantastic once they’re done, but require a lot more work. Because they’re older, we really go down to the studs, rebuilding and modernizing the heating and electrical systems. We also try to bring them back to their original appearance, in terms of woodwork and colors.