As students continue the stressful search for next year’s housing options, Vice President for Student and Campus Life Ryan Lombardi has been pursuing an ambitious multi-year housing development plan since 2016.
Three of the main objectives of the project are to eliminate deferred maintenance backlog, increase the on-campus housing opportunities for sophomores and increase the capacity to enroll more freshmen in the future.
The project is intended to be a flexible strategy that accommodates the needs of the various demographics in the Cornell community.
“Input for this comprehensive Housing Master Plan must be inclusive of all our students — on-campus, off-campus, Greek, independent living, undergraduates and graduate and professional students — as well as faculty, staff, local community members and trustees,” Lombardi previously stated. “We must be willing to ‘put all things on the table’ as they relate to the residential philosophy of our campus.”
Although the project is targeted towards improving the housing situation for freshman and sophomores, Lombardi said he hopes this will in turn positively affect upperclassmen.
“Our primary goals are to increase the capacity for first-year and sophomore students to live on campus, and to create the types of residential environments that are appropriate for each class year,” Lombardi told The Sun. “However, we believe that the new housing will open up more opportunities for junior and seniors to remain on campus.”
One distinct feature of the new plan is the creation of a “Sophomore Village” on North Campus, which primarily houses freshmen. However, the Sophomore Village is not intended to be modeled after the West Campus House System for upperclassmen.
“The West Campus House System experience involves active engagement within each house, community dinners and involvement with faculty,” Lombardi said. “While the programming for the new residence halls still is under discussion, we don’t intend to create a duplication of this model. We want to create a different option for our upper-level students who want to remain on campus and keep the West Campus experience unique.”
All in all, the project plans for an additional 2,000 beds on North Campus. This would accommodate an increase in student enrollment and allow for much-needed “swing space” so that deferred maintenance issues in current residence can be dealt with in a timely manner.
The lottery system for determining housing will not be altered, as the new rooms constructed as part of the project will simply be added to the lottery pool.
Since its launch in early 2016, the Housing Master Plan has surveyed students’ housing needs in Ithaca — something the administration recognized had been long overdue.
“We have not done an overall study of Cornell housing since the economic downturn in 2008–09, and a lot has changed since then,” said Marty Rauker, project manager and senior director of strategic initiatives for Student and Campus Life.
As part of the process of determining a specific proposal, Student and Campus Life employed the services of a consulting group, U3 Advisors, in a nine-month planning process. They engaged relevant stakeholders by holding focus groups, interviews and community meetings.
In addition, a survey was sent out to 3,900 undergraduates and 2,100 graduate and professional students in March 2016. The response rate was around one third.
This survey found that overall housing satisfaction for undergraduates was only “moderate.” While 78 percent of the the undergraduates who participated in the survey wanted to live on campus, only 56 percent actually did.
“The survey has given us a baseline of data to understand what our students consider as an optimal mix of living environments,” Lombardi previously stated. “Our final stage of the process involves developing a multi-pronged strategy, recognizing that there will never be a one-size-fits-all approach that meets everyone’s needs.”
The project will be financed through increasing the debt of the university, generating revenue from the new housing and increasing student enrollment after 2020. The current plan is for construction to begin in 2018 and be complete by 2020.
“We recognize this is a very ambitious timeline, but remain hopeful that it can be accomplished,” Lombardi said.