U. ends bid to use RISD dorms

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Friday, April 7, 2006

The possibility of using Rhode Island School of Design residence halls for Brown housing evaporated after RISD’s housing lottery for the fall semester, ending hopes that the halls could be used to alleviate the University’s current housing shortage. At a March 2 meeting of the Undergraduate Council of Students, President Ruth Simmons mentioned University administrators were looking into this potential solution to the housing crunch, which left some students living in converted lounges in Keeney Quadrangle last fall.

“When that was all said and done, it turns out that I’m 120 beds short for next year,” said Brian Janes, director of RISD’s Residence Life Office. According to Janes, RISD recently gained 500 beds and had the capacity to house about 45 students displaced by Hurricane Katrina last fall, which was the reason he anticipated having extra residence hall space next year.

“We did have some vacancies – we were able to consolidate and help out with the Katrina students – so that’s what happened to prompt speculation and discussion (of renting space to Brown),” Janes said. “That all happened before our lottery process.”

The housing that the University might have rented from RISD includes eight houses at the western edge of Brown’s campus on Angell and Prospect streets, according to Janes. One house is across the street from Carrie Tower.

Deanna Chaukos ’08, chair of UCS’s Campus Life Committee who was present at the March UCS meeting in which Simmons mentioned the possibility of utilizing RISD residence halls, said the apartment-style nature of the housing was its most appealing feature.

“It might (have been) upperclassmen housing if it’s apartment-style, which is something students want more of,” Chaukos said. “I think it’s immensely important that we find some alternative for housing (in) the meantime. If building a new residence hall isn’t possible right now, then we’re going to have to find some other alternative,” she added.

The University’s housing crunch has escalated in recent years and is fast becoming a top priority for administrators, according to David Greene, vice president for campus life and student services.

“We’ve been really squeezed (for housing) for the last couple of years,” Greene said. Minden Hall, formerly a hotel, opened as Brown housing in 2002, but the University “absorbed those rooms very quickly,” Greene said.

“We originally thought if we add 150 beds to our housing stock, it might hold us over for a bit; in fact, it didn’t make much of a dent – the demand is still very high,” he said.

Greene added there are several options that could be pursued to alleviate the housing shortage.

In 2004, the University issued a Request for Proposals to a number of developers and landlords to see if properties they owned or would consider building could be used to house Brown students.

“That came back with some options – some of which we actually used for graduate students – but that’s one possibility we could continue to explore,” Greene said.

Though there is no “specific plan” in place for building more housing on campus, “we are looking at whether or not we would build residence halls ourselves,” he added.

Greene said the University’s first “big push” to increase housing came about a year and a half ago, when a specially appointed housing task force issued the RFP and advised that housing capacity be substantial enough so only seniors move off campus.

“We had a whole idea for students paved out” to improve facilities over the next few years, Greene said, including construction of the Jonathon Nelson Fitness Center, better study space and improved dining halls, but “it’s been apparent to me and others we have to address this situation sooner … in particular because of the number of students who are interested in being on campus.”

“I think especially the administration’s realized that residences are a huge issue on campus, if not a deterring factor from Brown campus life,” Chaukos said.

The Office of Residential Life approved over 50 applications for off-campus housing in the days before the housing lottery this year, whereas in the past “you had to apply for it earlier to get it,” said Justin Glavis-Bloom ’07, the chair of Residential Council’s lottery committee. RISD has taken a similar approach.

“We’ve been approving requests for those people who wish to live off campus, so some people have been changing their mind about where they want to live, but … it’s going to be difficult,” Janes said, adding that problems particularly arise in finding housing for new transfer and graduate students.

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