Hundreds permanently reside in hotel for academic year
Nearly 500 students are living in the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Somerset, the same situation the University faced last August due to a housing shortage. There is one major difference, though — students are locked into their hotel residence for the year whereas they could move onto campus last year as space became available.
"Last year, we rented the hotel on the 30-day rotation basis. [This year, we contracted the] hotel we have for nine months, regardless of whether or not students live there," said Vice President for Student Affairs Gregory S. Blimling. "We did that because we have the lowest rate that way and at the time, we had the highest demand for students to live out there."
University Residence Life allowed students on campus to cancel their housing contracts last fall for any reason, in order to move students out of the hotels completely, said Executive Director of Residence Life Joan Carbone. Because of this option, all students moved out of the Crowne Plaza and into on-campus housing by February 2009.
During the housing lottery for the 2009-2010 fiscal year, 2,000 students had no place to live, so the University went to contract at hotels, including the Crowne Plaza Hotel and the Holiday Inn in Somerset, Blimling said.
But before the fall semester commenced, only 500 students were in need of housing.
"This year, we had two options for students. We had planned on contracting with Holiday Inn, which is right next to the Crowne Plaza, and [some] students opted into the Holiday Inn on a temporary basis," Carbone said. "It turned out that we didn't get as many first-year students and transfer students as we expected this year, and therefore we were able to move all of those students [who were contracted to live in a hotel temporarily] onto campus."
The students now in Crowne Plaza are there permanently, Carbone said.
"If we let them leave the Crowne Plaza, then we would have to continue to pay the Crowne Plaza for that space even though no student is in there, paying us for it," Carbone said. "It's a financial issue."
Some of the surprise from students opting out of on-campus housing is because of the economy, she said.
"We actually see that [students] are commuting; they're not living off campus," Carbone said. "A large percentage of our students who live on campus can commute and choose to live on campus for the experience; but with the economy and the situation that it's in right now, I think many students who wanted to live on campus had to give it up as an option [and now commute]."
Blimling said students are not paying any more for housing than they would on campus.
"The cost per day to live out there is about $30.36 per day, per student," he said. "The cost to have a room on campus in a comparable room, which would be a single room with a private bath, is about $31 per day. So it's about the same."
The University also provides a bus service for students, which includes two buses that will run from 7 a.m. to 3 a.m. seven days a week — but at a cost, Blimling said.
"The big subsidy comes from the bus service," he said. "The bus service this year will cost us just shy of $1 million."
Blimling said it cost $68,000 a month last fall to run even one bus from the hotel to the College Avenue campus. The University therefore added a second bus due to student demand and followed suit for this year.
While students are stuck living at the hotel, Blimling said many of the students actually prefer living out there.
"It's a pretty nice place. They have very large room with a private bath and large screen, color TV," Blimling said. "They have an indoor swimming pool, an outdoor swimming pool, a gymnasium [and] a sports bar. It's not all that tough out there. And they get maid service. They have parking next to their building."
Many students do not mind living in the hotel at all.
"I like it a lot. The only negative part about it is the storage space — there's not enough in the hotel room — but otherwise, there's a bus every 20 minutes and we have double beds," School of Arts and Sciences sophomore Sasha Odzakovic said. "It's pretty quiet. It's not as loud as the [residence hall], which is what I like. Last year, I was on Livingston and we were right by the window by the entrance, so it was extremely loud. Here it's really quiet."
School of Arts and Sciences sophomore Jen Arantes had no complaints.
"It's a lot of comfort, they provide us with a lot of [things] we wouldn't have on campus and the commutes not that bad; so far, so good," Arantes said. "I don't feel any different than when I lived on Livingston last year. We still have to commute to go to classes. Activities in the hall are still the same; we still have the whole dorm dynamic."
Mike Lotito, a School of Arts and Sciences sophomore, said he didn't get a good lottery number and decided to live in the hotel permanently.
"The amenities are great here. It's really nice, but the commute is really the only problem I have with it. If it were on campus, it would be fantastic," Lotito said. "It's a little harder [to meet people] than in actual dorms just because that's the nature of the hotel, and you kind of feel like you have to be more reserved."
Lotito said once he was used to the commute, he began to enjoy himself.
"You have to leave pretty early for class but other than that, its good," he said.
While living in a hotel is a temporary option, Carbone said she thinks students may be living in hotels again next year.
"I foresee that we will need [to have hotel residence for students], but I suspect that we will not go with a permanent contract," Carbone said. "We will probably do all temporary just incase."
The University has plans to build housing for 2,000 students on Busch and Livingston campuses, which should offset any housing shortage in the future, Blimling said.
"Five-hundred beds are going to be built on Busch campus. In fact we hope to break ground on that probably late this spring, probably around April," he said. "On the Livingston campus, we're planning to build apartments for 1,500 students plus about 40,000 square feet in retail space, and that will be along Joyce Kilmer Avenue and Rockefeller Road. That should open in the fall of 2012."
The University expects the new Busch housing to open in fall 2011 and will take a look at the demand for on campus housing, Blimling said.
"I think that if we were to [have students in hotels again,] we would probably go back to the 30-day rotation basis that we had the year before, depending on what the demand was from our students," he said. "So I think for one more year, we will probably have to have a hotel for at least a semester. Once we have those 2,000 beds, we think we will be very close to meeting the needs of our students, and if not, we have some other options to explore in 2012."