The needs of today’s students drive college construction boom

Brian Pedersen//February 25, 2020

The needs of today’s students drive college construction boom

Brian Pedersen//February 25, 2020

As buildings age and tastes change, college campuses are meeting the demands of their students by expanding their facilities or, in some cases, building new ones. Colleges are also trying to boost enrollment by adding residence halls so more students can live on campus.

Today’s on-campus students want more social gathering spaces and amenities close to where they live. They want more choices in the style of their temporary home away from home.

For that reason, many colleges and universities are embarking on construction projects geared to attract students to experience campus living.

Following on that trend is the idea that how students learn is changing as well.

Students want to learn in lively, interactive classrooms with flexible workspaces and advanced technology, that are functional and inspiring. Many educational buildings are reflecting the trend by creating open, energy-efficient work areas; and comfortable lounges and gathering spaces. Some colleges hope the changes will increase their population of both graduate and undergraduate students, which, naturally, creates the need for more facilities.

At Lehigh University in Bethlehem, construction is at the midway point for The New Residential Houses project, the former Bridge West Residence Hall, which upon completion will have 720 beds. That project will have 405 beds in the first phase and 315 in the second, said Brent Stringfellow, associate vice president of facilities at Lehigh University and project architect. The building will house more than 400 undergraduate students and include a café, fitness area, kitchenettes, lounge areas and conference rooms, he said.

Lehigh University is expanding the Rauch Business Center beyond its footprint. The project, which is in the design phase, could start construction later this year. IMAGE/SUBMITTED –

The first phase should be complete by the summer, with the timeline on the second phase yet to be determined.

The project, expected to cost about $75 million, is going up on the Packer campus at Sayre and University drives.

It’s part of the university’s Path to Prominence plan, a multi-year infrastructure and building plan designed to create more student living spaces on campus, expand the university’s footprint, and increase its academic and research opportunities.

Over the next 10 years, the university plans to increase its undergraduate population by 1,000 students or roughly, 20 percent, while increasing its graduate student population by 500. Right now, Lehigh currently has about 5,200 undergraduates enrolled and 1,700 graduates.

Lehigh University also finished South Side Commons last year, which are apartment-style units completed as a private-public partnership, known as a P3.

“It’s not part of our standard housing system, but that has some ties into Lehigh’s housing system,” Stringfellow said.

That $48 million project includes 428 beds in a building constructed on a vacant university-owned parking lot at the corner of Brodhead and West Packer avenues.

All of these projects fall under Lehigh’s Path to Prominence plan, which includes a goal of growing its student population and having the facility and staff to support it.

It’s not just residence halls that are growing and changing on college campuses.

The university is also expanding the Rauch Business Center beyond its footprint. The project, which is in the design phase, could start construction later this year but there’s no firm date set yet, Stringfellow said.

 Renovations at Kutztown

Though Kutztown University has no new major construction plans, over the past nine years, Kutztown University renovated six of its older traditional residence halls, said Matt Delaney, university CFO. Recently, it stalled a multi-purpose field at a cost of about $5 million and it has plans to renovate the College of Business.

The university is at a different point in its construction mode as it completed many projects over the last decade, including new buildings and renovations and upgrades to the dining hall, said Matt Santos, vice president of university relations and athletics. It has also seen a drop in enrollment, down more than 20 percent since fall 2010, resulting in the pending closure of one residence hall this year.

Kutztown University in Kutztown is one of Pennsylvania’s 14 state-run universities. FILE PHOTO

At the start of the fall 2019 semester, the university had 1,899 students.

“We have plans for fall 2020, one residence hall will be closed,” Delaney said. “That’s one of the older traditional halls that we have not renovated. About 10 years ago, we made the choice to invest in those halls because of the style. We felt it was more advantageous and beneficial to their success to keep the traditional style residence halls.”

Delaney said these halls offer more socialization opportunities where students are less closed off to other residents.

“We also wanted to make a decision that benefited our students financially,” said Kent Dahlquist, director of housing, residence life and dining services at Kutztown University. “We wanted to be more cost conscious.”

The cost for the traditional/non-renovated residence hall at Kutztown is $2,948 per semester and $3,242 per semester for a renovated residence hall. The university built the traditional residence halls mostly in the 1960s and apartment buildings in the early 2000s. The average age of most of its residential buildings is about 40 years.

“A lot of the challenges that colleges are facing are deferred maintenance,” said Delaney. “We are making sure that all of that is up to date.”

The university took the opportunity to provide amenities that benefit students, added Dahlquist.

“We are trying to not only bring them up to 2020 standards when doing these renovations, but also to put opportunities in the hall that would support these students in their academic endeavor,” he said.

 Public/private partnerships

At Lafayette College in Easton, there’s a significant construction happening across from its main campus where a mixed-use project is set to open this fall. The project includes multiple floors of residence halls on a block of McCartney Street.

At Lafayette College in Easton, construction is underway on a $20 million mixed-use housing project that includes multiple floors of residence halls on a block of McCartney Street. PHOTO/BRIAN PEDERSEN –

The $20 million project will include residences for 165 students, primarily sophomores and juniors, with one-, two- and three-to-four-bed suites with in-unit private or semi-private bathrooms.

The first floor will include commercial space such as a college bookstore, café and restaurant, in addition to an amphitheater and outdoor plazas. The college plans to put a diner and bookstore on the first floor on the McCartney and March streets side of the project, which spans a large block of McCartney Street.

This project is the first part of a multi-phase plan at Lafayette for projects along McCartney Street. It’s also part of a plan to expand its footprint in the community and attract more students to the campus.

“Students are becoming much more cost conscious,” said Annette Diorio, vice president for campus life at Lafayette. “They are interested in having rooms that are cost effective.”

Students like being close to the center of things. With the proximity of the McCartney Street project across from campus, students are still close to the heart of campus but also living in the community.

Reflecting student preferences, colleges like Lafayette are including spaces where students can meet and get to know one another.

“Students really want to be close to that and bridge the private residences that people live in,” Diorio said. “What they want is a little more independence from the college.”

Students often shift their living preferences during their time at college and that’s impacting they buildings are constructed. First year students tend to want more meeting spaces so they can get to know people, later on they prefer living with people who share similar schedules, he said.

Not including the McCartney project, which is a P3 building, Lafayette has nearly 2,400 beds that it owns, operates or manages, with enrollment at about 2,500 students. Through its expansion projects, the college plans to boost enrollment by about 400 students in six years.

Only about 140 students live off campus, giving Lafayette a largely residential population.

A P3 works primarily for revenue producing projects, said Roger Demareski, vice president for finance and administration at Lafayette.

With the P3 arrangement for the McCartney project, Lafayette owns the land and leases it to the developer who designs, builds and operates the property. The residents pay the developer. The property also remains on the tax roll, Demareski said.

The P3 arrangements is strategic with a lease period that typically runs between 50 to 90 years, he said. McCartney will have a 70-year lease. The long period allows investors and developers to realize their return.

“We have no guarantee to fill it, it’s not a liability we carry on our financial statements,” Demareski said. “They are very good tools to advance an organization.”

Some larger state schools use P3s to fund centers, parking garages and other buildings, though residence halls are the most popular, he added.

The commercial spaces at the McCartney project will also benefit the college by expanding its ability to serve food, Diorio said.

In addition, the new bookstore will bring the college more visibility to the community. And while these spaces will be beneath the student living spaces, the stores will be open to the public.

The McCartney project will prepare students for the multigenerational world they will live in after college, Diorio said.

Aside from residence halls, Lafayette completed its $75 million Rockwell Integrated Sciences Center and opened it to students in September. The 103,000-square-foot-building integrates critical skills in science, technology, engineering and math while bringing together disciplines in biology, computer science, environmental science and neuroscience.

“The driving force behind Rockwell was to find a new space for biology,” Demareski said.

Most of the school’s educational buildings were built after World War II and have reached the end of their functional life, Demareski said.

“In that case, that building did not serve biology well.”

The college will begin construction on the new home for economics, the Simon Center for Economics and Business, at the site of the former home of the biology building.

Construction on the center will begin at the end of May, with a finish set for fall 2021, Demareski said.

The opening of the Rockwell building will allow for the renovation of Kunkle Hall to support academic needs, which will include approximately 40 new offices, six new classrooms and a renovated amphitheater, according to Lafayette’s May 2019 strategic direction annual report.

The Rockwell building includes the Hanson Center for Inclusive STEM Education and the Dyer Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship. In addition, it offers a new cafe, a greenhouse, new engineering labs and increased study space for individuals and group work.

In the higher education industry, much of the buildings constructed in the 1950s and 1960s are outdated.

“At some point, they are either in need of significant overhaul or replacement,” he said. “These buildings are coming due.”