Growing Pains or Growing Gains: Student housing to accommodate increased demand

The new North hedges Suite Three will add 72 beds.
The new North hedges Suite Three will add 72 beds.

With MSU student enrollment climbing, discussions are underway concerning how best to address student life on-campus and off-campus.

According to Director of Auxiliary Services Tom Stump, MSU has been in contact with the City Planning Board in order to better understand “what [the university] needs to plan for” when considering student growth. Depending on the county’s response to the housing demand and projected housing developments for the future, “we may not need to [respond] as aggressively [as the county],” he said.

“Bozeman recently approved a large, 498-bed private residential housing project across 11th Avenue from the Bobcat Stadium,” said Chris Saunders, Assistant Director for the City Department of Planning and Community Development. Additionally, 223 new homes were constructed in Bozeman in 2012.

In consideration of student growth, Sanders added, “initiatives are underway to provide…successful community living for students” which will “improve understanding and avoid conflicts with neighbors.”

MSU can house about 3,400 students and will increase that number next year. Currently under construction, North Hedges Suite Three will add 72 beds and renovations in Quad F this summer will offer 20 more, for a total of about 3,492 beds next year. Despite the addition of only 90 beds, Residence Director Tammie Brown is confident in MSU’s ability to house more students in the future based on growth within the Bozeman community and housing changes on campus.

“The university is dedicated to the freshman live-on,” Brown said. Instead of lifting this requirement, MSU is considering other solutions. Last fall, Brown explained, ResLife reduced the number of double-as-a-single rooms and offered “rooms with rent credit” to be shared by three students.

According to Brown, there is a challenge in determining the exact number of beds needed each semester, as on average, between 100 and 120 students do not show up to accept their room each fall.

The focus on building smaller living complexes — such as the suites — as opposed to constructing another high-rise is based on research from campuses across the nation, Brown said. Research has shown that the high-rise experience proves more challenging than the low-rise, and since “the on-campus experience acclimates students to the college environment,” these smaller housing units have been important, Brown said. With these kinds of smaller communities, she added, “we can provide a more quality environment.”

The process of getting a structure built on campus takes about three years, said Stump. Currently, the university is considering major on-campus housing options for the future, which include building a new residence hall or working with a public-private partnership to provide more housing units. Decisions are likely to be made soon, he added, as the entire process will take several years.

The dining halls have also felt the pressure of student growth. According to University Food Services (UFS) Director Todd Jutila, the three dining halls have experienced “a substantial increase in the number of meals served.”

The dining halls have extended their hours to account for increased demand, said Dining Hall General Manager Mike Kosevich. Also, the staff numbers have grown in order to accommodate the longer work schedule.

The food offered in each dining hall undergoes “constant evaluation,” Jutila said. If one hall serves unpopular food, it increases the pressure on the others as more students go to other halls. These evaluations are another way in which the UFS is trying to combat student growth.

Developments are underway that will “upgrade” all three dining halls in years to come, Jutila explained. Last spring, a consultant evaluated each dining hall and recommended serious renovations. As a result, MSU has hired an architect firm and is considering options. Renovations are anticipated to begin during the summer of 2014.

In the past, Jutila continued, food was prepared in the kitchen, but “platform style service,” where food is prepared in front of the customer, has become more popular. Therefore, these renovations will transform the dining halls by eliminating unneeded kitchen space and creating areas that will allow for display cooking. Additions, he said, may include a Mongolian grill, smoker and brick-oven. These adjustments will also create more seating space.