Housing System Expected to Meet Demand for Rooms: Hotels, Temporary Spaces to Handle Overflow Numbers
Daniel J. Fitzgibbons
CHRONICLE
STAFF



August 25, 2000


Several hundred students will be placed in temporary rooms and local hotels when the semester begins, but the campus is better prepared than a year ago when the dormitory system was swamped by a large incoming class, according to the director of Housing Services.

Michael Gilbert said this week that last fall's overflow of students and a growing demand for on-campus housing prompted Housing Services to take several steps, including putting 150 permanent spaces back into service, to prepare for this academic year.

"We've worked very hard since last spring to make appropriate accommodations to deal with the larger number of sophomores," he said. "Earlier this summer, we thought we were in good shape."

However, a growing number of juniors and seniors seem to be planning to live on campus this fall, said Gilbert. Normally exempt from living on campus, upperclass students may be coming back to the residence halls because of improvements such as Ethernet connections and cable television, or because of a scarcity of off-campus housing, he said.

Whatever the reason, said Gilbert, "The challenge is to accommodate juniors and seniors."

Because students are not required to secure a space by paying a forfeitable deposit, said Gilbert, it can be difficult for Housing Services staff to get an accurate handle on how many students will actually arrive when the residence halls open. Housing staff this week projected that 11,038 undergraduates are expecting on-campus housing. The system has 10,691 permanent spaces.

"The numbers change daily," Gilbert said, noting that 85 juniors and seniors contacted last week said they will not be living on campus as planned. "We expect that trend to continue over the next couple of weeks."

Along with overhauling some rooms and putting them back into service, he said, Housing Services also freed up some spaces by moving some older, non-traditional undergraduates into two graduate student halls, Prince and Crampton. Resident assistants have been asked to voluntarily accept roommates for periods of one day to three weeks in return for $100 per week. Some two dozen RAs have accepted the deal, he said.

Housing Services is also prepared to place between 150 and 200 students in the Lincoln Campus Center Hotel, University Motor Lodge and the Howard Johnson hotel in Hadley until permanent assignments open up. About 220 other students may find themselves living temporarily in converted lounges or study rooms, he said.

According to Gilbert, the use of temporary space and hotel rooms is a typical occurrence during fall opening. But this year, Housing Services is aiming to reduce the amount of time students will spend in the stop-gap accommodations.

Gilbert said students lodged in hotel rooms will have top priority to move into residence halls as spaces open up. All of those students should have dorm rooms within a week, he said.

Similarly, students assigned to temporary spaces will be moved into permanent rooms as they become available.

Gilbert said he doesn't expect a repeat of last year, when some students spent all of fall semester in temporary rooms.

"It was unusual that we had about 125 students in temporary rooms for the whole semester," said Gilbert.

But after settling in and becoming part of a floor-based community, he said, the students were reluctant to split up from their roommates, even when offered permanent spaces. "If we didn't need to have the space, we let them stay," said Gilbert.

According to Gilbert, a veteran of five fall openings here, many students and their parents are initially worried about assignments to temporary space. But since the rooms are equipped with beds, telephones, cable TV connections and in some cases, Ethernet links, most fears quickly fade, he said. "The temporary spaces are very nice and very well set up."

The students in temporary residence hall spaces receive a pro-rated rebate of 10 percent per day off their rent. Those assigned to hotels receive no reimbursements.

Even with fall opening just more than a week away, said Gilbert, a "surprising number" of juniors and seniors are still applying for on-campus housing. Those students are being placed on a waiting list.

Now all that remains to be seen is how many students actually report for housing.

"We don't know how many no-shows there will be," said Gilbert. "We're still hopeful. Our goal is to have fewer students in temporary space for a shorter time."