By Mike Wilson
INDIANA – Bret Matthews, a freshman biology major from Philadelphia, sighed with relief during spring semester 2009 when he learned he had successfully cancelled his on-campus housing contract for 2009-10. His mind had changed about the suites. He was ready to move off campus.
“It’s restricting,” Matthews said in a Feb. 21 interview in his Maple East Suite.
He was referring to the social constraints imposed in the new suite-style residence halls going up all over Indiana University of Pennsylvania’s campus. Doors shut automatically. Bathrooms, showers and sinks are inside the individual suites, keeping residents from interacting in the hallways.
But another problem has driven Matthews off campus for the next academic year:
Historically, IUP touted affordability in its former slogan, “Quality, Affordability, Excellence.” But that has been replaced by “Beyond Expectations.”
IUP had set itself apart from the 13 other schools in the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education as the one with the cheapest room and board. For the 2008-09 academic year, those costs at IUP came in at $5,578 per semester, $1,291 – or 19 percent – lower than the $6,869 average for all PaSSHE schools, according the College Board’s log of universities.
However, IUP is in the middle of a $270 million “Residential Revival.” The sprawling construction project begun in 2006 will eliminate nearly all dormitory-style buildings on campus and replace them with more expensive suite-style buildings.
So far, seven residence halls have been torn down, leaving four dorm-style residence halls and one apartment complex, University Towers, still standing.
Scranton, Lawrence and Shafer halls will be demolished beginning in May as a part of the project’s Phase IV, according to Michael Lemasters, associate dean of students and director of housing and residential life. McCarthy Hall is soon to be demolished due to old age.
The demolition of older dormitories has inflated prices for those still standing. The cost of double rooms in the old dorms will rise to $1,930 from $1,787, an increase of 8 percent in one year, according to IUP’s Office of Housing and Residential Life.
As the new suites construction continues, suite prices also are going up. From the 2008-09 academic year to the 2009-10 academic year, the average suite price is going up $61, according to the OHRL.
The cost of the suites continues to rise because of future upkeep, according to Lemasters. The net income from campus housing will supply money for renovations and repairs for the new halls in the future. But inflation is also taking its toll.
“We’re tearing down 1,100 older, cheaper beds and replacing them with 1,100 newer beds,” Lemasters said in a Feb. 11 interview in his Maple West office. “We did anticipate the rising costs [of future upkeep]. But we couldn’t have expected them to rise as much as they did. With the economy as it is now, it’s just a tough time.”
Lemasters also alluded to possible renovations of classroom buildings within the next few years. Affected departmental offices will move to Elkin Hall, which will be used as a residence hall for the final time in the 2009-2010 academic year.
IUP’s Residential Revival will leave Whitmyre Hall and University Towers as the only conventional dormitories and apartments remaining on campus. The rest will be replaced by suites in Phase IV, scheduled to begin May of this year. Though Whitmyre is the residence hall for the Robert E. Cook Honors College, its leftover rooms will be offered to non-honors students in future years.
While other state-system schools are constructing similar housing projects, Lemasters said projects are not supported by a statewide program.
“We’re not competing,” Lemasters said. “Thirteen of the 14 schools are also taking this initiative.”
California University of Pennsylvania, Slippery Rock University of Pennsylvania and West Chester University of Pennsylvania are as far along as IUP, with construction nearing completion, according to Lemasters.
Bloomsburg University of Pennsylvania is building suite-style apartments, according to its Office of Residential Life Web site.
University of Pennsylvania and East Stroudsburg University of Pennsylvania are preparing construction, according to Lemasters.
Cal U and Slippery Rock, which are in the same stages of construction, were the two most expensive of the 14 SSHE schools for the 2008-2009 academic year. Cal and Slippery Rock charged rates of $8,868 and $8,066 per student per semester respectively, according to the College Board.
As for IUP student Matthews, increased costs on top of social restrictions prompted his move out of the suites.
“The prices are ridiculous,” Matthews said in his Maple East suite.
Cheaper off-campus rents led him to cancel the housing contract he had signed with IUP for the 2009-10 academic year. Instead, Matthews will be living in the Carriage House apartments on Oakland Avenue. There he will pay $1,900 per semester, 38 percent less than his $3,070-per-semester, two-person shared semi-suite.
Matthews considered a return to the suites in the future.
“If the prices were cheaper than Carriage,” Matthews began.
Then he reflected on the restrictions of on-campus living and concluded, finally, “No.”
Mike Wilson, a journalism major at IUP, is from Summerhill.