Private Perks

Administrators know that providing upscale living features in student housing options creates loyal fans and alumni — which is precisely why privatized housing companies are delivering luxuries in an ever-increasing quantity.

It’s a match made in heaven.“We bring the experience and creativity to the process,” says Alton Irwin, executive vice president for Marketing and Business Development at Capstone’s Birmingham, Ala., headquarters.“Our responsibility is to strike the right balance to build the high-quality facility with the greatest affordability.” And after working with 49 colleges and universities to build more than 24,000 beds on campus housing, the balance struck becomes buildings that not only look pretty on paper, but are pretty comfortable for the 18- to 22-year-old crowd.

For example, when a university asks for trash chutes in the corridors, Irwin makes sure they are large enough to accommodate a 12-in. pizza delivery box.

“And at the end of the day, this becomes a university facility even though it is a private developer who puts the deal together, takes the risk on delivery and cost, and brings it to fruition, “ notes Charles Perry, president of Ambling University Development Group. “This is not an off-campus apartment complex — and honestly, if a school is going to be a 24-hour living and learning community, they should be the ones ahead of the curve in delivering what students want.”

Residence Hall Rooms, 21st-Century Style

Indeed, universities today realize condo-style residence halls make an excellent differentiation strategy, says Doug McCoach, vice president of architectural and design firm RTKL. “They are developing destinations that will enrich students’ educational and social experiences.”

It starts, surprisingly enough, with the bedroom. “There is the misperception that you build a unit for the student of today with this big living room. I guess folks envision all four residents in that living room at one time watching TV,” Irwin reports. Wrong… usually students prefer space in their bedrooms — a minimum of 110 to 120 sq. ft. — with built-in closets. The single bed rules the furniture choices — the better to put more personal items into that space — and extra-long mattresses are the special touch.

But the amenities don’t stop there. According to Ramona Lucas, Capstone’s senior interior designer, the private housing developer often selects a cutting-edge mattress ticking material known as SOFlux — a super fiber that is impervious to liquid. Things don’t penetrate into the foam, giving the mattress a longer life. “It’s also more comfortable than the old vinyl mattress cover because it’s breathable. You don’t sweat when you lay on SOFlux,” Lucas says. Esthetically, it comes in an attractive navy blue color as well.

All freestanding furniture with drawers — including a standing dresser in the bedrooms — features full-extension, 150-pound ball bearing glides not standard in the industry. However, Capstone chooses this upgrade for its durability and the fact the locking system prevents the drawers from coming off the track. And count on that furniture being solid oak much of the time.

Private housing designers have a lot to contribute in bathrooms as well. For instance, administrators in the past have assumed students would swoon over a two-sink counter separate from the toilet and shower. They were only half right. According to Irwin, students prefer a larger countertop area with one sink. “It is the little things,” he adds. “It really isn’t rocket science, but we approach it by what we hear every day in the trenches. That two-sink idea is one of those ‘looks good on paper’ ideas.”

Meanwhile, Lucas incorporates ceramic tile in the bathroom and kitchen areas whenever that material choice falls within the budget.

As for electronics, it’s a given these spaces come wired for high-speed Internet, cable hook-up and a phone line for every pillow, says Ambling’s senior vice president, Greg Blais.

The Complex

“Comfort is important,” McCoach maintains, “but a sense of community is even more important. Students need to feel engaged in their residential environment; it’s part of what attracts students to a university and keeps them happy. Happy students tend to make for happy parents, who are typically the ones paying the bills.” So like any residential community, universities need to create and sustain a sense of place around the residence hall rooms. That’s one reason why the exterior of Valdosta State University in Georgia’s new Centennial Hall housing complex features a Spanish Mission design with brick and hardcoat stucco, brick pavers and 16- to 18-ft. palm trees.

It’s not unusual to find additional recreational options in the area, such as The Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising’s pool; spa; sauna; gym; jogging path; and tennis, volleyball and basketball courts — all enticing activities to its Southern California students.

Inside, count on the residence halls Ambling designs to include custom amenities like professionally soundproofed music practice rooms, fitness centers and plenty of complementary retail spaces. Even art galleries are on the table.

“The idea is that students can move in by bringing in a TV, dishes, clothing and bedding,” Perry adds. “The days of using utility company wooden spools, milk crates and stacked concrete blocks as makeshift shelves are over.

“Housing is everything you can imagine getting in a resort location.”