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ResLife to push off-campus option

Could alleviate overcrowded dorms

The Office of Residential Life is aggressively attempting to move more students to off-campus housing next year to combat the overcrowding that has continued to plague the University's residence halls, said Senior Associate Dean of Residential and Dining Services Richard Bova.

ResLife is actively promoting off-campus options to rising juniors and seniors to eliminate the need to place students in temporary rooms including lounges and kitchens, a recurrent solution that has significantly limited the amount of available common space for students across campus.

Currently, 37 rooms not intended as dorm rooms are being used as temporary housing, Bova said. There are 177 common spaces in the University's residence halls, comprising 81 lounges, 43 lounges with kitchens and 53 kitchens.

"We're going to attempt to put more students off-campus earlier," Bova said.

Moving more students off-campus will allow a one-year buffer against the housing crunch before planned renovations to the University-owned building at 315 Thayer St. are completed in summer 2012. The renovations, which Bova estimates will provide more than 60 on-campus beds, were approved by the Corporation at its October meeting and will start this summer.

Plans for the renovations will probably be available in the next month, Bova said.

Though Bova said he estimates that about 100 more students are living off campus than did five years ago, increased freshman enrollment — along with the decrease in the number of students studying abroad and an increase in the number of students coming back from leaves of absence — has aggravated the overcrowding problem.

But the revamped effort to encourage more students to seek off-campus housing could exacerbate the problem rather than provide a solution.

Bova said much of the overcrowding problem results when students who applied to live off-campus decide later that they want to live on-campus. Part of the problem stems from what Bova called "straddling juniors," sophomores who apply for off-campus housing to keep housing options open for their junior year. Many of these juniors ultimately decide to live on-campus or study abroad after they have received off-campus permission, forcing ResLife to scramble to accommodate the increased demand for on-campus housing.

Other students decide they want to live on-campus if they are dissatisfied with their off-campus houses when they arrive at the start of the semester. When students complain to ResLife about their off-campus situation, Bova said his office will place these students in rooms that may have been previously left open for summer assignment. Sophomores and juniors who otherwise would have been able to occupy these rooms are then displaced to temporary rooms.

"If you want to stay with me, stay with me," Bova said. "I can't in all good consciousness leave anyone out in the cold."

Because Bova said the University usually does not have a finalized enrollment number to offer him until August — and because his office has to "wait for the dust to settle from the lottery" — ResLife is often faced with a "potential crunch" right before students arrive on campus.

In order to relieve the pressure on University housing this year, ResLife approved 116 students for off-campus housing in August, Bova said, though only about 30 accepted.

In May 2008, the Committee on the Residential Experience released a report that included recommendations for improving the on-campus living situation. Among the recommendations was a proposal to "open up more lounges in residence halls," advice that has not been implemented, Bova said.

Because the University guarantees on-campus housing for all undergraduates, ResLife has been forced to resort to placing some students in unconventional rooms such as spaces previously designated as kitchens and lounges.

"There clearly are less lounges available," he said. "I think there's always an impact on students when there's not as much communal space."

Though converting these communal areas into dorm rooms has changed the floor plans of many of the University's residence halls, ResLife's website does not always reflect these changes. For example, a kitchen in Goddard House that was converted to a dorm room is still listed as a kitchen on ResLife's website. The plan for South Wayland House similarly lists lounges that have since been occupied by students.

But Bova said his office is not planning to update the information on its website to indicate these temporary changes. "I would never go in every year and tell you," he said. Though ResLife guarantees all residence halls will have at least one kitchen, Bova said this should not be taken literally, especially when considering independents who live in program houses. "Everybody does have access to kitchens, but it's all up for interpretation," he said.

Bova said the outdated residence hall plans does occasionally result in complaints from students whose communal spaces were converted to dorm rooms. "We do hear complaints, and we do our best to work with students," Bova said, adding that students can use any of the kitchens in program houses if their own kitchen is being used to house students.

But Bova said ResLife has found no alternate solution other than converting lounges. "They are just used as overflow," he said. "The other option is we just start tripling our doubles."


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