On Feb. 18, the University announced a plan for a new residential community that will add an estimated 130,000 square feet and 375 beds to the University’s undergraduate housing inventory.
The new residential community is slated to stand on Brook Street just to the south of Stephen Robert Hall. Building at this site will necessitate the relocation and demolition of businesses currently located on the lot, such as Bagel Gourmet, PieZoni’s and East Side Mini Mart. “We’re supporting the businesses currently in what their relocation plans look like,” said Michael Guglielmo, vice president for Facilities Management at the University.
The plan entails “two buildings across the street from each other,” Guglielmo said. The two buildings will house approximately 94 suite-style dorms, with each consisting of “four singles, a common room and a bathroom,” Guglielmo added.
The dorms will be organized this way in response to the “Undergraduate Master Housing Plan” survey the University conducted in 2018, in which students indicated a strong preference toward suite-style dorms, said Koren Bakkegard, associate vice president for Campus Life and Dean of Students at the University. “The new halls will also have increased access to kitchen facilities,” Bakkegard added.
The need for the dorms became clear as the University recently failed to provide enough housing to ensure students can meet their “long-standing requirement that students live on campus for six semesters and guarantee that students will never be required to live off campus,” Bakkegard said. Some of the load of this housing overhaul will be alleviated by the construction of the new Wellness Center and Residence Hall to open in 2021, which will add 162 new beds.
The University has not added any new dormitories to the campus for a few decades. “It has been about 30 years since we built a new dorm,” Guglielmo said, referencing Vartan Gregorian Quad A and B. By constructing these two new facilities, the University hopes to eliminate the need for off-campus housing for undergraduates. “We are really mindful of the impact our off-campus students have on the community,” Bakkegard said, adding that “Much of the off-campus housing is not as secure in terms of fire and public safety, etc.” She also described concerns that too many undergraduates living off-campus negatively impacts graduate students: “We are also really worried that because our graduate and medical students are renting as well, they are being displaced even further off-campus by undergraduate tenants.”
Ultimately, the goal of the construction is to balance meeting student needs with minimizing impact on the local community. “This project advances our commitment both to our students and to the local community by more effectively negotiating a range of current challenges,” said Eric Estes, vice president for Campus Life and Student Services.
In addition to reducing the need for off-campus housing for undergraduates, Guglielmo and Bakkegard expressed a University interest in lowering the density of on-campus housing. “Right now we have some triples in rooms that were meant to be doubles, some common areas that have been converted into bed space,” Bakkegard said.
Regarding the probability that the University will be able to accommodate all students in their first six semesters, as well as any seniors who might want to stay on campus with the addition of this new residential community, “we are as sure as we can be right now,” Guglielmo said. “When you think about the 6,600 undergrads and the housing we have right now, we will be able to at least meet the six-semester requirement,” he added.
Guglielmo also hopes that this new community will help the University reach net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2040. “Right now the target is LEED silver,” he said, referencing the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design national energy efficiency building classification. “All heating and hot water will be supplied through electricity, without any fossil fuels burned within the building.” The electricity will come from the national grid, but will be sourced in-state from a new solar grid in North Kingstown, which is set to be in service by January 2021.
The two buildings will be designed by the Deborah Berke Partners architecture firm. Guglielmo stated that he was drawn to this company by its strong connection to Providence — since Berke is a graduate of the Rhode Island School of Design’s Architecture program. Bakkegard appreciated the firm’s “sense of vibrancy, youthfulness and engagement … It really feels that they are designing for college students to live in this space,” she added.
The project is currently being funded by loans, but the University expects student housing payments to ultimately cover the construction. “Currently it is being funded through debt, but the bed revenue will more than cover the associated cost,” Guglielmo said. According to a release sent out by the University on Feb. 18, part of the cost will also be covered by renting out the ground floor (approximately 2500 square feet) as retail space. “We don’t know yet on a donor. There are some ongoing discussions,” Guglielmo said.
The University expects to break ground on the project this fall, when they plan to proceed with demolition and construction. “This is where the hard work begins,” Guglielmo said.
The University hopes to have completed the project by the 2022-2023 academic year “so that our current first-year students will have the opportunity to live in these residence halls, and it will be part of our messaging to incoming and prospective students,” Bakkegard said.