A sweet floral scent lingers in the 2 E. 8th St. building’s marble and bronze-plated lobby, inviting Columbia back for five more years of cheaper hospitality in its soon-to-be refurbished dorm rooms.
Mark Kelly, vice president of Student Affairs, signed the $21 million lease Feb. 29, locking in 14 floors for on-campus student housing. The lease period is from fall 2012 through spring 2017, and will replace the current contract with The Buckingham, 59 E. Van Buren St.
The contract will lower housing costs by $1.5 million, or $1,600 for each bedroom, compared to this year’s contract at The Buckingham, Kelly said. Even with a 5.2 percent increase in tuition for the 2012–2013 academic year, student affordability was achieved, he said.
A 2.5 percent annual rent increase is included in the contract for both students and the college.
“The price of attendance will be no more for next year than this year,” Kelly said. “There’s a very understandable tendency to focus on tuition and fees, but it’s really the total cost of attendance minus the scholarship support.”
Not every student will benefit from the changes, but 40 percent of students will have a scholarship, and several hundred noncommuters will benefit from reduced residential costs, he said.
In preparation for the expiration of The Buckingham’s lease, Columbia chose 2 E. 8th in May 2011 because it offered student affordability and The Buckingham’s level of amenities, Kelly said. In addition, 2 E. 8th has an indoor pool, high-speed Internet, renovated kitchens, appliances, common rooms and a fitness center.
Kelly said students were dissatisfied with upkeep at 2 E. 8th before the renovations, but the college’s lease specifies that standards have been met.
Columbia previously leased all floors of 2 E. 8th from 2004–2009, according to Mary Oakes, director of Residence Life. When that lease expired, the college pursued The Dwight Lofts, 642 S. Clark St.
The options included at 2 E. 8th are a $7,490 apartment with two to four occupants sharing smaller bedrooms, an $8,200 apartment with two to four occupants sharing larger bedrooms or a $13,500 studio apartment. A shared bedroom in a shared apartment in The Buckingham is currently $11,204, Oakes said.
“Living in shared apartments and living in a community environment such as this will allow our students an opportunity to learn how to live with other people,” she said. “When you get out there in the real world, if students have families, they’re still going to be needing to learn to live with other people.”
Oakes said the dorms offer an educational environment for community living, which is made easier by students’ similar artistic backgrounds and art appreciation.
Kelly says he is confident there will be no vacant rooms for fall 2012. The 2 E. 8th building will have 480 beds, 30 more beds than under the lease with The Buckingham, all of which will be for studio apartments.
While students gain upgraded rooms, they lose the option of a 21-and-over floor, making 2 E. 8th an alcohol-free building because a broader distribution of ages ensures greater occupancy on Columbia’s floors, Oakes said.
Alicia Lullo, a 21-year-old senior art and design major, said she stayed in a private bedroom at The Buckingham in preference to sharing a room with her two little brothers at home. She said this year, she moved to the 21-and-older floor even though she doesn’t drink often.
“This is the ‘big-kid’ floor and not the 20-and-younger floor,” Lullo said. “It feels nice having a floor of juniors and seniors. They probably understand a little bit more.”
Room assignments will try to match students within a one-year age range. The average ages of students living on campus are 19 and 20, Oakes said.
There is no separate housing for graduate students because the demand is low, according to Kelly.
He said The Residence Center, 731 S. Plymouth Court, will eventually undergo similar renovations, but as a capital project, it is not planned for next year.
Students currently living on campus can register their 2012–2013 housing preferences before new students.
“We’re always looking at what might be available,” Kelly said. “We’re looking at amenities, we’re looking at price [and] we’re looking at proximity. Even if other things might be attractive about that property, students like waking up, falling out of bed and running to class.”