College dorms going upscale

Sunday, September 2, 2001

GWYNEDD VALLEY, Pa. -- The residence hall at Gwynedd-Mercy College is so new it doesn't yet have a name.

What it does have wouldn't pass for the old definition of "college dorm": suites with air conditioning, Internet access, a full kitchen and a semi-private bathrooms shared by only four students.

Gwynedd-Mercy, a small Roman Catholic college in suburban Philadelphia, is part of a nationwide campus building boom that has seen traditional dorms replaced with upscale residence halls.

Wired and roomy

These new buildings are typically wired for high-speed Internet and cable, sometimes come with refrigerators, freezers and microwaves, and are arranged suite-style, with two rooms grouped together with semi-private bathrooms. Colleges are also building apartment houses on campus, with living rooms, private bedrooms and full kitchens.

Traditional dorms -- those cramped, noisy places where privacy is nonexistent -- are out. Colleges simply aren't building them anymore.

"Most students growing up don't share a room anymore,"said Joan Schmidt, president of the Association of College and University Housing Officers International. "I think it's a shock to their systems, because they're not used to sharing."

According to a February survey by College Planning & Management magazine, 96 percent of new dorms have Internet and cable access, 90 percent are air-conditioned and 71 percent feature a kitchen and recreation rooms.

They're also more secure: 67 percent have card-access systems and nearly a quarter use video surveillance. Average cost to build: $6.2 million.

"They are being designed now to meet today's students' needs. That includes privacy and yet the need to see and be seen -- large open gathering spaces where you can walk through on the way to class and say hello to a couple of friends," said Ellen Kollie, editor of College Planning & Management.

Oklahoma State University has opened seven apartment buildings and four "deluxe suite" buildings in the last two years as part of a $78 million residence hall expansion. None even remotely resembles a 1960s-era dorm.

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