A few days after senior Amalia Hertel moved into Peterson House, she began to notice some problems with the house. The back door locked with difficulty and sometimes didn’t latch, one of the windows in the back of the house didn’t lock, broken glass littered the ground in the backyard and another person’s belongings were in the building’s basement. She thinks homeless people were living there over the summer.
“I think that there are three really important things about everything that we have on campus for students. It needs to be safe, it needs to be functional and it needs to be what we deserve,” Hertel said. “A lot of the stuff that we found in this house was not functional and wasn’t safe. I think those are things that do have to be a priority for the school.”
The maintenance staff has been prompt in responding to the work orders that Hertel and her housemates have called in and many of the issues were repaired immediately, but she does not understand why some of the problems weren’t addressed over the summer before she came back to campus. She thinks that the college has to make improving housing a priority, especially if they plan to enroll more students in the upcoming years.
According to Craig Southern, Associate Dean of Students for Residential Learning, the college has about 1,215 beds on campus. He said that his office is asked to keep those beds about 100 percent full.
“Naturally it’s always nice to have a few spots open,” Southern said. “But what we’re asked to do is have all those beds filled.”
He noted that the office keeps a few emergency singles open for “worst case scenario” situations and that more spaces usually open up for students to move into as the year goes on.
In the last several years, the college has discussed intentions to increase the enrollment to about 1,600 students. Dean of Admission Paul Steenis said that the total enrollment has stayed flat right at about 1,400 students in the past five years.
“The goal of growing the college’s enrollment is still very much in play,” Steenis said. “The timing could have been better because as we were thinking about growing was also the time that the number of high school graduates was taking a fairly precipitous decline. The demographics of students in the country were changing rather dramatically.”
Director of Facilities Scott Maust said that if the college does grow, he would like to consider building a new dorm before the institution reaches its target enrollment. Having more than enough rooms available for the students on campus would allow his department to take certain dorms off-line for a year to renovate them. He would like to look into adding air conditioning to all the dorms, renovate some of the showers in the Quads and update some buildings’ plumbing systems, which he said were installed during the 1950s or 1960s.
“Right now I just don’t have that swing space,” Maust said. “It’s really hard to get a lot done in three months in the summertime.”
Steenis, too, sees the value in building a new dorm before the college reaches its target capacity in order to renovate. He said he currently does not have a goal year in mind for the college to grow its enrollment.
“It’s just hard to set a particular clear trajectory of growing by X number of students per year. I just think that that’s a difficult thing to know right now because there are so many forces in the marketplace,” Steenis said.
Hertel lives in Peterson House because she requires medical need housing. She has celiac disease and needs her own kitchen where she can prepare gluten-free meals. In the past she has volunteered for the Admissions Office, serving as an overnight host to prospective students.
“I don’t want to lie to prospective students and say that we have good housing on this campus because I don’t think we do,” Hertel said. “On the other hand, until we have enough students to need it, I don’t necessarily see the college putting forward the money to make newer, better housing.”
Maust sees several possible ways to finance new housing. He believes the college could work toward fundraising the money to do so. He also said there are programs in which companies will finance and build buildings and the college would pay them back through housing fees.
He estimated that a 100-bed brick dorm would cost about $40,000 to $45,000 per bed — about $4.5 million for a new dormitory. This amount includes the cost of building the bathrooms, common areas, elevators and other amenities.
In the past, plans to purchase St. Mary’s Square on Cherry Street were discussed, but Maust said that purchasing and renovating that building would not have been cost-effective. He currently fears that if some of the buildings’ systems aren’t updated they will break when the campus most needs them.
“Heating doesn’t die July 4. It dies Jan. 4 when it’s cold as can be and then you’re scrambling to try and fix the stuff,” Maust said. “We’ve kicked the can down the road long enough and now we’ve got to do something. We can’t kick it much further.”