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Move-in: massive jigsaw puzzle piecing together students, rooms, meals

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Launch an interactive graphic showing traffic procedures for move-in week. Requires Flash to view.

Move-in week: 11,600 students; 11,538 dorm beds, plus 60 off-campus; 270 or so RAs and 300 to 400 Scarlet Squad upperclass volunteers to help students move in; 2 dozen BU and Boston police officers and 8 professional movers on busy days; 26,864 meals to prepare for students and their families.

Those numbers measure the daunting task BU officials face in preparing for this week’s fall semester move-in. Then factor in the forces beyond administrators’ control—from the weather (rain means fewer volunteers to help students move in) to the economy (bad times=cheaper rents and more students living off campus) to a Red Sox home game (they play at 1:35 p.m. tomorrow at Fenway)—and you have some idea of the exhaustive logistics and contingency plans required to pull off an undertaking of this scale.

Director of housing Marc Robillard, who has been the general overseeing this massive migration for more than two decades, says his office spends months working with others across the University to turn what could be a logistical nightmare into something approaching science.

Gone are the days when housing officials routinely had to book rooms for hundreds of students at local hotels, unsure of how many students were returning to campus housing. “We’ll be right on the button” this year, says Robillard. “Everyone’s got a bed. No hotels.”

How do they do it? The advent of online technology accounts for the precision with which Robillard and his staff can make plans. Students can now keep housing officials aware of last minute changes in plan. And that same technology means that the housing office and the registrar’s office can share information instantly. In the past, snail mail slowed communication.

“You give me how many freshmen put down $650 to go to BU, and I can tell you how many are going to live on campus,” Robillard says, although he fine-tunes over the summer. “If I’ve got two openings on a male floor, but the only people I have to assign are women, I’m in trouble,” so his office makes sure to stash an extra supply of rooms for both genders.

The housing folks aren’t the only ones scrambling. “It’s our busiest time all year,” says Captain Robert Molloy of the BU Police. To prevent gridlock, his department divides the campus into zones, based on dormitory locations, and reshapes traffic flows and parking routines for move-in. (See map above). City of Boston police officers provide backup in the most heavily congested parts of campus.

To avoid clogging streets with armadas of parked cars, the University has hired professional movers to help students moving into especially large or hard-to-access halls on certain days: 10 Buick Street tomorrow, Claflin Hall on Saturday, and 33 Harry Agganis Way throughout the week. Parking info for the week is available here. 


“We expect to turn over the 350-space Babcock lot no fewer than four times on each of the peak move-in days,” says Dwight Atherton, director of parking and transportation services.

Wednesday, August 25, and Saturday, August 28, the official move-in day for freshmen, are considered the peak days. Atherton advises students to arrive before 10 a.m. or after 2 p.m. on those days to avoid the worst of the rush.

Meanwhile, someone has to serve all those meals move-in weekend, when families are invited to dine gratis with their students. More than 35 entrees, from calamari with tontine sauce to rotisserie-roasted pork loin to vegan sloppy joes, will be offered at 5 dining halls. “It’s not like every dining hall’s serving meat loaf and mashed potatoes,” says Stephen Baldwin, director of residential operations, although that entree will be available as well.

To prepare for this year’s crowds, Baldwin’s staff pores over records from previous years, studying how many people ate in each dining hall during move-in weekend.

August 23 was “what we affectionately call double secret move-in” for two specially approved groups: freshmen volunteering for the University’s annual First Year Student Outreach Project (FYSOP) and students who’ve been here over the summer (such as employees and practicing athletes), Robillard says. The busiest moving day actually occurs tomorrow, for several reasons. A record number of freshmen, more than 1,100, will attend the final Orientation session on Thursday, August 26, according to program director Shiney James (CAS’99). “Some families made the tough decision to come to Boston only once this summer because of finances,” she says. Many international students are expected to arrive tomorrow as well.

Experience didn’t prepare administrators for one surprise: this year’s 4,300 incoming freshmen outnumber last year’s by almost 300, says Robillard, who consequently had to adjust housing. “We took fewer graduate students on campus. We took fewer transfer students—transfers aren’t guaranteed housing—so I cut the number of transfers I housed in half.”

His advice to stressed families: relax. BU does move-in every year and makes it work. And make sure your student doesn’t bring everything she or he owns, as rooms are small; you can ship or bring winter clothes and other things later as needed.

Move-in week is like “a jigsaw puzzle, making sure all the pieces fit. Typically, we’re overbooked. So I need students not to come to BU,” Robillard jokes. “Everyone else wants all students to enroll and pay their bill, and I’m going, ‘No, no, no, no, let’s throw them out.’”

Rich Barlow can be reached at barlowr@bu.edu.

1 Comments

One Comment on Assembly Required

  • From A Mom for 2 BU Students on 08.24.2010 at 6:00 pm

    Moving In

    BU does an amazing job moving students in and out of housing, even when the Yankees are in town. No hysteria is necessary under any circumstances. Big credit to the Housing staff – over 7 years – they have been flawless. No worries, first-years!

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