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Club scene What do students do when they’re not in class or holed up in the library?
Inspiring young artists Tang Museum workshops engage the minds and hands of local kids
Housing plan New digs for students will offer perks to compete with off-campus living

 

3 BR, 2 bath, woods view
New housing aims to entice more students into the campus
by Susan Rosenberg



Did you ever have to share a bedroom with a sibling? Most college-bound teenagers today have had their own room (and sometimes bath) at home, and many expect similar space and privacy at college. While bunks and communal bathrooms may be accepted as part of freshman-year bonding, upperclassmen are demanding more flexibility and convenience. It’s a nationwide trend, and so is the competitive scramble of colleges trying to offer housing options that are bigger and better than traditional dormitories.

But that’s only part of the reason Skidmore is now building a student apartment complex that emphasizes comfort. “Our prime motivator,” says Don Hastings, director of residential life, “is better integration of academic and community life.” Currently most Skidmore seniors, plus a few juniors, opt to live off campus. He says, “That means our •capstone class’ each year is mostly not on campus. It’ll be great to bring some of them back, to have them participate more in campus life. It’ll contribute to a richer community experience.” And that’s a major component of Skidmore’s long-term strategic plan now being finalized. The plan speaks of educating “intelligent and engaged citizens” and calls for several living/learning initiatives and community-building measures. One goal is the closing and sell-off of Moore Hall (the downtown dormitory), whose 160 residents, mostly sophomores, will join the contingent of seniors to be housed on campus.

Hastings says the pattern has been for underclassmen to occupy the residence halls, move to Scribner Village for their junior year, and go off campus as seniors. He hopes that future residents of Scribner—or its replacement facility (which is high on the construction priorities list)—will prefer the prospects of the new apartments over downtown living. “We want to lure, not force, people back to campus. Students like being off-campus because Saratoga Springs is such a fun, safe city. But it’s also landlord heaven—students often have to share with a lot of roommates to afford the rent. And we think the convenience of on-campus services will look good compared to laundromats and snow shoveling and driving in from town.”

To develop housing that can compete with the allure of off-campus living, committees and planners held meetings for more than a year, and QPK Design, a Syracuse architecture firm with a long résumé of student residence projects, was hired to draw up building and site plans. Skidmore’s biggest housing complex ever—380 beds in 100 apartments in ten buildings—will occupy the edge of the North Woods opposite the northeast end of Scribner Village. Unlike Scribner, constructed in 1973 for a fifteen-year lifespan (and now in the terminal stages of decrepitude), the new apartments will be “built to last,” says Fred DiMauro, Skidmore’s manager of planning and construction. In recognition of the woodland setting, planners worked to keep environmental values in mind: lumber from some of the felled trees will be used in the buildings and other campus programs; insulation, windows, and appliances will be high-efficiency; and the complex will be entirely cooled and mostly heated by natural geothermal energy (see sidebar). DiMauro says, “I really enjoyed the challenge of making this project responsive to the college’s needs for development and also respectful of the environment it’s in.”

 



Creative problem-solving extended also to the funding process. By working day and night to push through the legal and financial paperwork for a New York State Dormitory Authority bond issue in a lightning-quick three months, Skidmore snagged a favorable interest rate in the nick of time. “The day after we sold the bond, the market dropped twenty-five basis points,” recalls Ismat Alam, financial-services director. The thirty-year bond, at 4.75 percent interest, covers the $24 million apartment complex as well as about $6 million for major renovations to the dining halls.
Site clearing and grading began in February, with an official groundbreaking this spring. This year’s sophomores, who will be seniors when the doors open in the fall of 2006, will be the first residents of the Northwoods Apartments.

“Students we consulted really like the •metropolitan loft’ feel of the accommodations,” says DiMauro, and Hastings adds, “It’s more mature, upscale living.” Each two-story apartment has three or four single bedrooms (with full-size double beds, not the usual twins), at least two full baths, living-room space, a full kitchen (including dishwasher), air-conditioning, phone and computer jacks in each bedroom and living room, a private entryway, and, in most cases, a mudroom. Several units are located and designed to accommodate students with mobility, vision, or hearing disabilities. Furniture will be sleek and modern (for example, steel-and-wood cantilevered desks with curved edges), the floors will be of finished concrete, and the common spaces will have an open layout.

A 300-space parking lot behind the complex will link to the Scribner Village roads, but the only direct access to the main campus is by foot. It’s all part of the “green” lifestyle: the buildings are grouped in three quads with pedestrian-friendly recreation space and walkways; cars are strictly for trips off campus.

“I think students will be really happy with the design,” says Petria Fleming ’06, the Student Government Association’s VP for residential affairs. “I’m sure there will be some complaints about not being able to park in front of one’s door. But moving the parking to the perimeter makes sense, since the goal is to foster interactions and build community.”

Pat Oles, dean of student affairs, foresees “a quality-of-life gain both on and off campus. Three hundred fewer students will be commuting on city streets and competing for affordable housing, and seniors can join the campus community without giving up the more autonomous lifestyle that’s appropriate for twenty-one-year-olds.” And Mike West, Skidmore’s new VP for business affairs, says, “These apartments, together with other initiatives, including the closing of Moore, will improve our community culture. We’ll see a tremendous change in the profile of this institution within just a few years.”

Click here for site plan, interior layouts, and other information.

 

Talk about well grounded…

Many animals escape winter’s cold by burrowing underground; in the summer they scrape holes and lie on the cool earth. Skidmore is using the same passive heat regulation to warm and cool its new Northwoods Apartments; it’s just digging deeper and adding a little technology. Eighty 300-foot-deep pits will perforate the building site, as part of a ground-source heat-pump system that relies on geothermal conductivity rather than gas or oil combustion.

Here’s how it works. A sealed, water-filled, two-inch-diameter plastic pipe runs down into each pit, U-turns, and runs back up; then it enters the next pit. On a frigid winter’s night, all that surface area of piping comes in contact with the relatively warm 50-degree earth and absorbs heat from it. Then, inside the house, an evaporative heat exchanger and compressor raises its temperature much higher and blows warm air into the rooms. On a hot summer’s day the 50-degree ground cools the pipe, and the heat exchangers work in reverse to provide air-conditioning. Skidmore’s system is designed to meet all the apartments’ cooling needs and 80 percent of their heating load. Boilers providing hot water to the kitchens and bathrooms will supplement the heaters in the coldest weather.

The US Environmental Protection Agency has called geothermal “the most energy-efficient and environmentally sensitive of all space conditioning systems.” But up-front installation costs are higher than for conventional furnaces and air conditioners. At Skidmore, project manager Larry Krison worked with New York State’s Energy Research and Development Authority to qualify for a green-energy promotion rebate. The installation will cost about $400,000 more than a conventional system, but Krison says, “We’ll recoup a good 25 percent of that in the rebate, and with expected fuel savings of 30 percent in the winter and 50 percent in the summer, we calculate a payback in just three or four years.” When campus facilities and budget mavens saw the numbers, Krison reports, “It was a slam-dunk decision.” —SR

For more on geothermal, see www.geothermal.org.