New grad student residence under construction

Friday, December 8, 2006

The University is currently renovating a house on Charlesfield Street to be used as a residence for graduate students, as part of the Plan for Academic Enrichment’s goal to increase available grad student housing.

The house occupies the lots at 71 through 73 Charlesfield St., according to Abigail Rider, director of real estate and administrative services. When finished, it will include 18 studio apartments and two one-bedroom apartments, Rider said. Renovation on the house began over the summer and is set to be completed by next September, she added.

The house is one of three vacant large houses already in the University’s possession that will be converted into housing units, said Richard Spies, executive vice president for planning and senior advisor to the President. Two of the buildings, 71-73 Charlesfield and the house at 129 Waterman St., will house grad students. The other, at 79 Charlesfield St., will be used for visiting scholars. Renovation of the Waterman Street property has not yet begun.

The house will not necessarily be limited to grad students, Rider said, but first-year grad students will get first pick of the housing. If there are not enough grad students who want to live in these buildings, the University could fill them with visiting scholars or faculty and staff new to Providence in need of residence, she added.

The houses planned for grad students will feature mostly studio apartments with private bathrooms and kitchens as well as laundry facilities and some common area, Rider said. The house for visiting scholars will include private bathrooms but no private kitchens.

A survey conducted among grad students about their housing options indicated that most would prefer studios or one-bedroom apartments rather than a house shared with several other people, Rider said. She added that one of the most important things the survey showed was that grad students want housing close to campus.

“What we’re attempting to do is provide the kind of housing grad students find attractive,” Rider said.

Spies said the new residences are in line with the goals of the Plan for Academic Enrichment in several respects. The plan recommended that houses not appropriate or large enough for academic functions be put to residential use. It also recommended that vacant houses be adapted for new uses. The house at 71-73 Charlesfield has not been occupied for about 10 years, Rider said.

Spies noted that grad students arriving for their first semester often have the greatest difficulty finding a place to live. This is because they are searching for housing while not on campus and may be unable to visit Providence or are not familiar with the city. This problem is even greater for international students, who Spies said comprise 30 percent of the grad student population.

“The more housing we’re able to offer, the easier we will make the transition” for grad students arriving on campus, Spies said.

Although he did not have exact numbers, Spies said there are approximately 400 first-year grad students in need of housing, and the University is currently only able to provide housing for 100 of them.

According to Rider, the University currently offers housing in 50 traditional dorm rooms in Miller Hall, as well as efficiency and one- and two-bedroom apartments at 20 Olive St., 86 Waterman St. and 165-7 Lloyd Ave.

Rider said 71-73 Charlesfield will be of similar quality to existing grad student residences, but the house’s particularly rundown condition requires a thorough renovation that will provide a slightly more modern kitchen and bathroom.

Spies said University officials think it is important to have grad students close to campus, adding that he believes housing available only to grad students will foster a stronger sense of community. While these studios may be smaller than those found in an apartment complex, Spies said their proximity to the main campus and community atmosphere are key assets.

“(This house) allows them a lot more access to other graduate students and other people on the campus – they’re not isolated off in some area where nobody else knows anything else about what they’re doing,” Spies said.

Spies said one of the reasons the University does not offer much housing for graduate students is the abundance of affordable and good housing located near campus that is now owned by Brown. Unlike some of its peer institutions, Brown is not located in a neighborhood where exorbitant rents make it impossible for students to find reasonable housing off campus.

“It’s possible to live here in a way that it isn’t in some other places, so we haven’t felt the same need (as other universities),” Spies said.

Though Brown has not had to provide much graduate housing in the past, Spies said additional and higher-quality housing could be an added enticement for prospective grad students.

Rider said the grad student housing survey made it clear that grad students would like more residences on campus, but how and when further housing will be added has not yet been decided.

“We’re going slowly because we want to see how many grad students want housing,” she said.

It is possible that future graduate housing may not be located on the East Side. Spies said one area where the University could put new graduate housing is the Jewelry District, where the University recently purchased several new properties.

“There’s more capacity (in the Jewelry District) to do a large complex where you could have hundreds of people in apartment-style living,” Spies said.

“There are not a lot of options (for graduate student housing) here on College Hill,” he added.