In 2012, Student Services, Inc. and Student Lodging, Inc. met with Benchmark Construction, Ambling University Development and architect Lord Aeck Sargent to brainstorm their new Residence Hall Replacement Project for Millersville University.
“We said, ‘Here’s our campus,’” said Geoff Beers, CEO of Student Services, Inc.
And in the spring of 2013, that campus’ housing makeover began with the construction of South Villages, a four-fingered, 709-bed suite-style residence building.
The next spring, Hobbs Hall was demolished, with Burrowes and Lenhardt following in the summer. The completion of South Villages at the start of the 2014 fall semester finalized the first phase of construction.
In total, phase one cost $48.85 million.
Phase two is in full swing with East Villages, two T-shaped buildings with 601 beds between the both of them, currently being constructed. The phase started in the summer of 2014 and is set to finish by the 2015 fall semester, according to Beers.
Phase two ultimately cost $44.92 million.
Phase three will begin during the summer of 2015. Diehm Hall, Hull and Harbold will be demolished around that time, while two more T-shaped buildings will be built across from East Villages.
When all three phases are finished, the project may continue with a fourth phase, consisting of two similar buildings next to phases two and three—ending with 10 wings of residence halls: four in phase one, two in phase two, two in phase three and two in phase four.
“It’s not a money decision. It’s a how-many-heads-do-we-have-to-put-in-our-beds-decision,” Beers said, adding, “It’s going to depend on the ebb and flow of the construction process.”
Each phase is scheduled to last an “aggressive” 15 months, as Beers put it, combining to a total timeframe of 45 months—nearly four years—or 60 months—five years—if they decide to continue with a fourth phase.
The project will likely finish in 2016, Beers said.
South Villages includes four rows of suite-style residence halls stemming from a 125-seat “great room,” as Beers and Tom Richardson, director of Housing and assistant vice president of Student Affairs, put it.
Currently, the four wings are simply named A, B, C and D, but Richardson unveiled that they will most likely attach the old residence hall names to each new version.
“We’re hoping to reuse the names of the old residence halls to identify the wings of the new project,” he said. “We want to honor them by keeping the names.”
Also, Richardson and Beers said, the great room will soon receive an updated name.
The room will usually hold lectures, as it’s equipped with “everything you would see in a classroom … actually, it’s probably a little better,” Beers said.
South Villages also includes a front desk, elevators, stairwells, study lounges, a fireplace lobby and social room, as well as various pedestrian walkways in and out of the buildings.
Incoming residents had three options in the new dorms:
• 378-square foot, two bedroom, one bathroom single occupancy semi-suite—two residents—which cost $4,400 per student per semester
• 678-square foot, two bedroom, two bathroom double occupancy semi-suite—four residents—which cost $3,900 per student per semester
• 858-square foot, two bedroom, two bathroom double occupancy suite—four residents—which cost $4,400 per student per semester
PHASES TWO and THREE
East Villages will also comprise of various study lounges and social rooms, with walkways for easy travel from each building.
Along with the three options in South Villages, East Villages will have two additional exclusive options for students come fall 2015:
• 307-square foot, one bedroom, one bathroom private suite
• “Pod housing,” as Richardson called it, inhabiting 10 residents and including four common bathrooms and common areas, such as a kitchen and living room
The pricing for phases two and three will likely be higher than the inaugural pricing of phase one.
“We anticipate a slight increase,” Richardson said. “Students should probably expect to pay a little bit more for [personal suites] than sharing a room … we actually associate prices with room types.”
In order for students to start living in the suites, however, the buildings have to be safe.
“Everything is built to current code,” Richardson said. “We need to make sure that we’re code compliant.”
First off, a civil engineer samples the land to make sure the building is built in a safe location. Once the structure is built, safety precautions are implemented, such as sprinklers, AEDs (automated external defibrillators), security cameras and card-only access. To ensure handicap accessibility, those card access points are at an appropriate height, peepholes are also lower in height and the bathrooms include wheel-in showers. For the visually impaired, doorbells are available; for the hearing impaired, “pillow shakers,” which Richardson described as an alternative warning system that literally vibrates the pillow when the fire alarm goes off, are available.
In order to satisfy the students, Millersville conducts surveys following every phase. This gauges how many beds to put in, what to add to the dorms and what to leave out.
For instance, Richardson described a surprising amount of feedback explaining that students wanted to bring their own refrigerators, so they didn’t automatically supply each room with one; however, residents can still rent them from the university if necessary. Students also didn’t want a lockable closet, so they left off the doors.
Another trend in the surveys, Richardson explained, was to add more outdoor recreational activities; therefore, they are throwing ideas around for another location for basketball and a new location for sand volleyball and other activities.
This is also where the new-and-more-defined Quad will benefit.
“There were several different plans that would do something with the Quad,” Richardson said. “This one … really defined the space.”
Looking at the project’s rendering, Beers added enthusiastically, “That really looks like an Olympic village,” pointing out that it will be more suitable for campus events but, more importantly, “goes beyond the organized events,” he said.
It can be a place to lie outside studying, throw Frisbee, play a game of football or have a snowball fight when winter rolls around.
Aside from that, though, Beers and Richardson agreed that they are most excited for students finally having the ability to choose their room style, rather than having no choice but to live in a “cinderblock shoebox,” as Beers called the old rooms, with another roommate.
“We had 96 percent double-rooms,” Richardson said. “The options were lacking.”
With the breadth of options that accompany suite-style living, Richardson noted that all students can benefit.
“You’re creating true options to choose from, and, to me, that’s what students are looking for,” he said. “We’re [also] better able to serve those students who need certain accommodations. We were really struggling with that.”
And Richardson has already heard positive responses.
“I always ask students, ‘What do you think?’” he explained. “They love it is typically the response … we think that feedback is going to continue to be very positive.”
Unfortunately, the construction comes with one downside: limited parking for commuters. The project has temporarily taken up a large parking lot on the corner of James Street and Creek Drive.
“We were pretty concerned with giving up a handful of spots to those contractors,” Richardson said. “We may not be as convenient as [commuters] like … We’re going to be inconvenient for this academic year.”
To make up for the lack of available white spaces, the university’s parking division has made a restricted parking permit available for commuters for $50 per academic year—half-the-price of a full-year parking pass. However, according to Robinson, these restricted passes only include two parking lots, including Ann Street, near Millersville Bible Church. Robinson advised students to contact the parking division at the Lebanon House on N. George Street for additional inquiries.
“I still see openings on campus,” he said. “I think the issue is … it’s not where [commuters] want it.”
As for residents, there have been two parking lots added along with phases one and two: 179 spaces below South Villages—with plenty of handicap spots, Robinson added—and 319 freshly painted blue and green spaces across from the buildings.
Once construction is completed, Robinson believes both residents and commuters will be satisfied with parking on campus.
“It will increase, and that’s by design,” he said. “Parking will be better in terms of parking spaces per resident.”
PAYING FOR THE PROJECT
Student Services, Inc. is an affiliate of Millersville University and the owner of this project and its buildings. They subcontract the work for the university.
“Student Services exists to support the university,” Beers said. “We exist for Millersville and because of Millersville.”
Richardson explained Millersville University manages the project, buildings and properties while working with students and faculty to utilize the buildings as sufficiently as possible. The university is not responsible for payment of the Residence Hall Replacement Project.
Student Services, Inc. will be paying off bonds, with principal plus interest, incrementally for 30 years. Beers compared it to a mortgage for a house—a really, really big house.
After the 30-year loan cycle, the buildings will then be owned by the university, but, by then, it may just be time to tweak the residence halls once again.
“We’ll knock them down and do it all over again,” Beers said with a smile.