September 29, 2016

Consulting Firm Proposes Expanding North Campus Housing

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The consulting firm U3 Advisors has developed a plan to build new dorms on North Campus that will primarily house sophomores, working with the Cornell Housing Master Plan, according to Todd Stern, Managing Director of U3 Advisors.

Stern said at a housing master plan forum Tuesday that new student housing may be built where the CC lot currently sits, and would house around 1,000 students. Student housing could also be made available on the Appel fields. The firm would plan to make these areas, along with the townhouses, a sophomore living area, while the rest of rest of North campus would remain reserved for freshman.

Stern identified several goals for the project — including finding a better environment for first year students than current residential facilities and accommodating more sophomores on campus.

The Division of Student and Campus Life conducted a survey about undergraduate housing in March. Stern said 88 percent of sophomores reported a desire to live on campus, while only 70 percent of them secured on-campus housing.

“We heard a lot from students over the course of the last nine months about broken friendships and intense periods of stress and anxiety about where students will live,” Stern said.

Another problem Stern addressed is that some first and second year students do not live in “appropriate housing.” He listed the townhouses as an example of such a living environment.

“Developmentally, you’d ideally want to see first years in a more engaged, less-isolated, more social environment where there are opportunities to engage with and meet more students than just a few in the townhomes,” Stern said. “The physical product doesn’t match the demographic that’s living there.”

Stern said it is another “sub-optimal housing situation” that some students living on North campus must live in forced doubles and triples. Stern said there are also students who have to live program houses even though they did not request to be a part of them.

“It’s a challenge for the students who are placed there who weren’t seeking out that particular affinity group,” Stern said. “It’s also a challenge for the community themselves who are looking to build affinity around some animating idea.”

Stern addressed how the “strained capacity” of on-campus housing has raised the rent of living arrangements off campus, including in Collegetown, and has also made the area more crowded.

“One of the aspirations here is that by building more capacity and accommodating more students on campus, we can release a little bit of the pressure through that valve and try to have a moderating effect on rents in town,” Stern said.

Stern also said U3 Advisors plans to accommodate enrollment growth, assuming that Cornell will continue to gradually increase its class sizes in the future.

Adidi Etim-Hunting, the residence hall director of Jameson and High Rise 5, asked at the forum if more parking would be added on campus in the place of the CC lot, where she said a lot of students park.

Stern was not certain whether there would be any parking left in the CC lot after construction.

“As the plans become further clarified, Cornell will need to study transit options and parking supply and demand,” Stern said.
Leslie Meyerhoff, the director of student affairs assessment and planning, said Appel fields will be kept alive in the future, but the area will be restructured.

“In the process of shifting Appel Fields to provide a development site, we want to explore ways to extend the life of the fields, potentially by incorporating turf and new lighting,” said Danielle Borden, U3 Advisors senior associate.

Stern said they may also renovate multiple dorms, including Balch, which could force students to live in another building for a year.

One participant at the forum asked whether students in Balch would still be able to live in an all-female living environment. Stern said it has not yet been finalized if all-female housing would be available during that year of renovation. However, he clarified in a later email that any construction to Balch would begin “in between class years” and last one year, allowing students to move back once changes were complete.

“Many women want to live in Balch,” Etim-Hunting said. “I know for some women they live in Balch due to cultural and religious reasons. Please keep this in mind when considering changing housing options for students.”

Ryan Lombardi, vice president for student and campus life, emphasized the need for campus discussions about the housing plan.

“We need to have a lot of campus conversations with our students, with our faculty, with our staff to understand what we actually want to do,” Lombardi said. “Our consultants are proposing some opportunities.”

He added that he hopes decisions will follow these ideas promptly.
“My sense is that this is a very urgent issue for us on-campus and off-campus,” Lombardi continued. “So I would love for us to have some resolution during this academic year so we can start the implementation as quickly as possible.”