The Laundry Line

When given an opportunity to make suggestions about housing, students assigned to a new residence hall at Southern Illinois University — Carbondale (SIUC) asked for in-room washers and dryers. The University agreed, provided the students would accept higher rents. They did, and now they are washing their clothes in the comfort of their own on-campus residence hall rooms.

Is this a trend?“While laundry facilities in apartments are the norm off-campus, it remains an unusual element of on-campus housing,” says Paul Berry, a vice president and architect with Trivers Associates, Inc., in St. Louis, the firm that designed the SIUC residences.“SIUC decided to do it as part of a program designed to keep upper-class students on campus.”

Conventional campus laundries don’t do much to attract new students to a school, but these facilities can drive prospects away. Poorly appointed or unkempt laundry facilities can put off prospective students focused on finding a school with comfortable living conditions. Inconvenient laundries can also drive current students into off-campus apartments that often have individual washers and dryers in the living units.

To insure against these problems, most schools have spruced up their on-campus laundry rooms. “There are more windows and better seating in common laundry rooms,” continues Berry. “In some, there are outlets for laptops to enable students to work online while waiting for the laundry.”

Part of the Package

Getting the laundry rooms right contributes to marketing, agrees Sandy Harpster, director of Housing at Penn State’s University Park campus. “Laundry facilities are part of the entire campus package we offer,” she says. “Students want laundry facilities to be convenient. They want good-quality machines and comfortable laundry rooms.”

Penn State’s basic laundry program charges students 75 cents per washer load, payable with a student debit card by way of a scanner mounted on the washers. Use of dryers is free. The school is also experimenting with prepaid laundry scenarios in its new East View Terrace housing complex. The 808-bed development featuring single rooms with baths has been built as 62 separate houses, each with a prepaid laundry room. “This is the first time we’ve done this,” Harpster says. “But it isn’t a new idea. Our research turned up a number of schools with similar programs, including the University of Minnesota and Ohio State University.”

Energy-efficient equipment has also become the norm on campus. Last year, Penn State University installed 600 new Maytag Commercial Neptune washers in common-area laundry rooms at eight campuses: Altoona, Erie, Berks, Beaver, Hazleton, McKeesport and Mont Alto. The main campus at University Park received 350 of the new machines.

The new machines are expected to save the University more than $110,000 in energy costs.

Gone are the traditional top-load machines. The new Maytags are front-loaders with ENERGY STAR ratings from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The ENERGY STAR rating means that the machines use less energy to operate and require less detergent, which releases fewer detergent-derived environmental pollutants and cuts costs. “The use of ENERGY STAR-rated equipment is clearly a growing trend in universities across the country,” says John Gregory, president of Caldwell and Gregory, Inc., the Richmond, Va., firm that sets up and maintains Penn State’s laundry facilities. “Penn State is a prime example. So is the University of Delaware and West Virginia University. We’ve installed ENERGY STAR equipment at each of these schools.”

The Maytag Neptune washers use an average of 18 gallons less water per load than conventional top loaders. Penn State calculates that this feature will cut water use at the University Park campus by almost half, from 27.5 million gallons per year to 12.4 million gallons. The satellite campuses expect to cut laundry water requirements by half as well. That would reduce their water use by 1.9 million gallons per year.

Then there’s the 1,000-rpm spin cycle of a Neptune washer. Conventional machines spin at about 500-rpm. The 500 extra rpm wrings more water out of clothing during the washing phase. So the dryer needs less time and less electricity.

Online Monitoring

Harpster adds that Penn State has considered installing an online laundry monitoring service. Although Penn State decided against the technology, other schools have embraced it. “This is a technology trend,” says Gregory. “It is a service that allows a student to remain in the comfort of his or her room, go online and check for an available machine. When the laundry is finished, the system will send an e-mail or a text message to a PDA or cell phone alerting the student. Carnegie Mellon, Goucher University and Temple, to name a few, use online laundry technology. These systems have been very well received by students.”

Temple University is installing the e-Suds computerized laundry service in 40 laundry rooms this summer. e-Suds, by USA Technologies, allows students to go online to check the availability of washers and dryers. Temple represents the single largest installation of the e-Suds online laundry service yet undertaken on a college campus. Students use their Blackboard Transaction System cards to activate and pay for the service, and receive an e-mail on their personal computers or cellular phones when the laundry is complete.

Jack Niven, director of Housing, and Ed Neblock, associate director of Housing for Temple University, said they were delighted to bring Temple students the very latest, high tech product to enhance their resident life. “It’s all about Temple University providing the highest level of service and convenience to its student body.”

What are the most important laundry trends today? According to Gregory, university officials point to energy-efficient equipment, while students favor bright, friendly laundry rooms with online monitoring systems.