Halls Will Need To Adapt To Students

March 10, 2006
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GRAND RAPIDS — The residence halls of the future may not be much different from those that students live in today.

That’s the message Henry DeVries, Calvin College’s vice president for administration, finance and information services, brought back from the 21st Century Project, a program sponsored by the Association of College and University Housing Officers that took place Feb. 5-8 in Chicago. DeVries was one of 90 people who were divided into nine focus groups to discuss the future of residence halls and higher learning.

Each group was composed of people who represented college business offices, students, professionals in resident life, academic administration, student affairs, higher education associations, architects and contractors. The outcome of the discussions will be a set of plans for a state-of-the-art college residential facility that will be bid on by the participating institutions.

“It was a fascinating experience to think and talk about this stuff for a couple of days,” he said.

During the conference, DeVries said the groups determined that though residence halls may not change much, expectations will be a little different in the future.

“Education is going to be much more fluid,” he said, with students taking classes from home and other remote locations — even from different universities. To promote that fluidity, DeVries said residence halls will have to deliver more technology in coming years.

“Students are going to expect a real pervasive technology,” he said.

Though technology will be an important part of residence halls, DeVries said a sense of community is still at the core of student living. That community aspect, offered at a time when students are becoming independent from their families, is one of the experiences of living in a residence hall that DeVries said will not go away with time.

The communal aspect of living arrangements, therefore, will remain prevalent in dorm plans.

“They would probably live in doubles and share a room,” he said of future freshmen. “Part of the residential experience is to give people a chance to live as a community.”

After freshman year, DeVries said there will likely be options to move into a more independent arrangement, with individual rooms and on-campus apartments.

Environmental friendliness and sustainability were also discussed at the conference, DeVries said, as well as the idea of mixed-use projects. The possibility of having graduate housing, short-term housing and faculty housing within walking distance of amenities such as a salon, convenience store or restaurant is very likely, he said.

“I was surprised that the students who were there participating were very interested in providing those services on a college campus so you wouldn’t need a car,” he said.

DeVries said there was also a lot of talk of a stronger connection between where students live and where they learn, with suggestions for integrating classrooms into residence halls.

The conference was the beginning of a year-long program. DeVries will be invited back to see the prototype that will be developed from the discussions.

He said he was relieved to see the core values of higher education were not expected to change drastically.

“The fate of higher education is still really solid,” he said.

For the residence halls of today, the focus is on durability as well as student comfort and safety, said Barry LaFreniere, project manager for Rockford Construction Co. Inc., which is building the new $25 million halls at Central Michigan University.

“From a structural standpoint, residence halls are pretty standard. Our biggest issues tend to be with tight schedules and small footprints to facilitate construction,” he said. “The students need a place to live in the fall, and the completion date is set in stone. We do not have the luxury to delay the project …”

LaFreniere said construction site safety is very important on a college campus.

“Construction sites are inherently safe but unforgiving, and we are constructing in the middle of thousands of curious kids,” he said. “We need to be extra diligent to provide a safe and secure site.”

The project, which includes more than 172,000 square feet of new space and 46,000 square feet of renovated space, began in March 2005 and is set for completion in August.

Rockford Construction has also completed Grand Valley State University student housing projects and worked with Davenport University on Phase I and Phase II of its growth.

LaFreniere said schools have changed the way they approach resident halls, in that they now offer “more accommodating living spaces designed to compete with the off-campus market.”

LaFreniere said Rockford Construction has been able to work with Central to make informed decisions and resolve problems.

“This is our first project with Central Michigan University and they have been wonderful to work with. CMU is a very knowledgeable client and that factor has helped keep this project on schedule, on budget and running smoothly,” he said. “I could not be happier with where the project is at this stage of the game.”    

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