The Oberlin Review
<< Front page News September 8, 2006

College Housing Plans Proceed to Next Phase

The Master Plan and Phase II housing projects, both still in the conceptual stage, were put into motion this summer with the formation of committees that aim to incorporate student input. The projects were introduced to the College last year as ways to either identify or carry out plans for improving on-campus housing beyond what upperclassmen have ever known at Oberlin.

The Master Plan aims to assess and prioritize renovations of all College residence halls and housing. Each residence on campus will be examined and its fate determined — be it stasis, renovation or eradication. The ultimate aim is to maximize the potential of each building.

“All buildings are going to be assessed but they won’t all be renovated,” said Molly Tyson, associate dean of students and director of Residential Education. “We’re here to set the priority for what we can actually do.”

“A major goal will be the de-densification of buildings,” Tyson continued, adding that another major goal would be to create more singles.

The initial phase of the Master Plan began this summer with the formation of two committees: the Master Plan Executive Committee and the Master Plan Planning Committee.

The first group is composed of senior College staff and will address the technical aspects of the plan. The Planning Committee — composed of ResEd, a selected group of students and members of Facility Planning and Construction — will look more closely at the conceptual aspects of the plan.

“The meetings involve the consulting firm presenting us with architectural schemes for how each residential building on campus could be brought to its best use,” said College senior Erica Tempesta, a member of the Planning Committee.

“We’ll be looking at the non-technical aspects of the project,” said Michele Gross, director of business operations for ResEd.  “As a group we don’t have the expertise to talk about plumbing and how it works. We’re here to talk about flow, how to organize community spaces.”

Gross emphasized that the committees’ findings will affect how much money is allocated to the project — that number is not yet set. However, the committee will be looking for buildings’ best possible uses – the best case scenarios for each building.

“These will be idealistic designs,” said Gross.

Four students currently serve on the Planning Committee. All interested students will be encouraged to contribute ideas and concerns through focus groups that will take place throughout the semester. ResEd plans to coordinate these meetings to address different groups of buildings being reviewed.

The committees aim to present a report to the College by December to be used to help the College make decisions regarding renovations.

The renovations the College chooses to make, however, will not be implemented until Phase II housing is completed.

Phase II is separate from the Master Housing Plan, and refers to a housing construction project aimed at creating more College housing for upperclassmen; Union Street was Phase I. Phase II is anticipated to open in fall 2008.

The Phase II residence was originally slated to be located next to Stevenson Dining Hall. Now, however, the College plans for it to be constructed behind the Allen Memorial Art Museum and the Oberlin Inn. There is currently no specific timeline for breaking ground on the site.

As with the Master Plan, Phase II is still in the conceptual stage. The architects that the College has chosen for the project, Frederick Fisher and Partners, will consult with a planning group composed of students and staff throughout the year.

“It’s still very conceptual at this stage,” said Tyson. “We’re trying to work out what would be the best features to include.”

College junior Jake Grossman, a member of the Phase II planning committee, said he decided to join because he “was concerned with the sustainability of future housing projects at Oberlin.”

Grossman was particularly enthusiastic about Atelier Ten, a consulting firm brought in to help the designers make Phase II more environmentally sustainable.

“Fisher and Joseph Coriarty, his associate who is involved with Phase II, seemed genuinely excited when we conveyed that Oberlin students are interested in environmentally conscious housing that displays its sustainability in both explicit and implicit ways,” Grossman said.

As these plans for future housing improvements are forming, however, some students are dissatisfied with their current housing.

Thirty-three new students were placed in converted lounges this fall due to a shortage of conventional bedrooms.

College first-year Asa Ivry-Block is one such student—he was placed in a converted lounge in South. While he says he likes his room, he also expressed some discontent.

He is most unhappy about the fact that he will be moved out of his room soon. “It is a difficult transitional period for all first-years such as myself and to make us change our housing just as we are becoming acclimated is ridiculous,” he said.

ResEd has 20 students in converted lounges at the beginning of every year, Tyson said, and the department has developed a strategy for dealing with the transitions from lounges to dorm rooms as fairly as possible.

“[Putting students in lounges] is a necessary temporary process,” said Gross, explaining that one to two percent of expected students typically never arrive on campus. In anticipation of this, ResEd over-fills the rooms with the hope of eventually balancing out at 100 percent occupancy. 

Once ResEd has determined which students are not coming to campus, they place the students without permanent rooms in those left vacant. They determine how to relocate students by prioritizing the restoration of common spaces and keeping students in areas and with people they have grown comfortable with.

According to Tyson and Gross, ResEd hopes to move students into their permanent residences by Sept. 15 this year.


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