The Future of Housing at Rutgers

Photo credit: Briana Supardi

Photo credit: Briana Supardi

by Samantha Snyder 

“Livi Apartments”, as the students call the housing complex, is the place on campus most students prefer to live in.

Nothing is unobtainable to those students lucky enough to score a Livingston Apartment. If a resident walks out of his or her apartment into the Livingston Plaza, there is a Starbucks, a Qdoba, the Rutgers Cinema, Henry’s Diner, 16 Handles Froyo, and Kilmer’s Market, to name a few. Also, the student center, recreation center and revamped Livingston Dining Commons are just a short walk away.

Livingston seems to be Rutgers’ greatest model for the future of the housing experience, and its most successful achievement yet. Improvements are occurring on all campuses in an attempt to emulate this model. On the Cook/Douglass campus, there are renovations in progress to complete the Henderson Apartments. There have been new, modern lounges added to some of the dorms to improve the current housing experience.

However, the College Avenue Redevelopment Initiative is in the works that should modernize the housing experience, just as Livingston has. According to this initiative, it will feature new buildings and housing for students. There will also be renovations occurring in the older dorms on campus to restore them. Even with the loss of Rockoff Hall this year, the College Avenue campus will still live up to the model with the addition of over 1,000 beds.

Since the construction of Livingston Apartments in mid-2012, students — even seniors who have tended to move off campus in the past — have been hoping to land the highly coveted apartments.

The Livingston Apartments can house up to 1,600 students in its three different apartment buildings, according to the Rutgers Residence Life website.

These apartments have many amenities: up-to-date appliances including a dishwasher, stovetop, oven, microwaves and even a full-size refrigerator, universal Wi-Fi, individual rooms, laundry rooms, and even a fitness center. Stores surround Livingston Plaza, which provides students with easy access to food and other items that surround the apartments.

“It really has made life there convenient, just because instead of us going and traveling to College Avenue or downtown New Brunswick, we have stores right there,” says senior Margaret Frimpong. “And knowing that we are students, it’s really convenient. You can just go downstairs, get what you want and go back up.”

Most seniors have decided to continue living on campus, because the experience has been much better with these greater amenities than one could receive living off-campus. During the 2013-14 academic year, 982 of those living in the Livingston Apartments are seniors, according to Jason Hunt, the assistant director of Livingston Campus Residence Life. Frimpong says that she believes the apartments are mostly seniors because of the features provided.

This is the housing experience that Rutgers wants to provide to their students, to make them more student-friendly and enjoyable to live in, instead of the traditional dorm experience or having students move off campus, says Sean Dowd, the assistant director of the College Avenue Campus Residence Life.

This improvement to housing is the first of many, not only on the Livingston campus, but the other campuses as well.

Within the last few years, Rutgers University has been steadily working toward improving the housing experience for students with the construction of new dorms and the renovation of older buildings.

On Douglass, the Henderson Apartments, originally built in 1974, were renovated over the summer. Out of the 72 units, 36 have been renovated so far in the nine buildings. These renovations included: a brand new bathroom (including a new shower and sink area), new living room furniture, kitchen appliances, and new flooring and carpeting.

Henderson was also equipped last spring with a brand-new lounge area, located between Houses 3 and 4. The lounge has wireless Internet, a large screen/flat panel TV, and a study area, according to the Henderson housing site. The dorm Woodbury Bunting-Cobb also has added a similar lounge.

The residents of Henderson also have an accessible laundry room and enormous parking lot with a bus stop just a short walking distance away.

Henderson only accepts women and at least two of the residents must be part of Douglass Residential College (DRC), yet the popularity among DRC students and non-DRC students has grown.

“I really wanted to live at Henderson this year,” says junior Priyeta Khanal, “because most of my friends and I are Douglass women so it was accessible to us in that we could all live together. And with all the renovations, it’s really clean and I think it’s just as nice, if not nicer, than the Livingston Apartments.”

And although these renovations have not taken place in all of the apartments yet, Henderson has already begun to see the dramatic increase in occupancies.

During the 2012-2013 academic year, Henderson only had 245 of their 275 available spots filled and 134 of those were also part of DRC. During the current school year, all 275 spots are filled and the number of DRC students is up to 175, according to the director of Housing and Scholarships at DRC, Lauren Zielinski.

“This is probably the most DRC students we’ve had at Henderson, since the transformation from Douglass College to Douglass Residential College of Rutgers,” Zielinski says.

Rutgers expects the College Avenue upgrades to be just as popular.

The project is being termed the College Avenue Redevelopment Initiative by the New Brunswick Development Corporation (DEVCO). According to DEVCO’s site, two goals of this initiative are to “transform a significant area of Rutgers historic campus into a modern, accessible one” and to “unify the College Avenue campus and create an aesthetically pleasing, cohesive environment that creates a sense of place for both town and gown.”

This initiative was originally proposed after the New Brunswick Theological Seminary decided to sell 5 of its 7.5 acres to implement a long-term capital and facilities plan, according to DEVCO. DEVCO is partnering with the seminary and the Rutgers Hillel to redefine 10 acres of the downtown campus of Rutgers.

According to the October status report from Antonio Calcado, Vice President of University Facilities and Capital Planning, the initiative will cost around $295 million. The project is being funded by tax credits from the New Jersey Economic Development Authority, says DEVCO’s site.

The initiative includes five components: a new residential Honors College, a new Theological Seminary, a new academic building for the School of Arts and Science, an apartment-style building with retail space, and infrastructure improvements along College Avenue including a brand new parking lot.

The Honors College is a move to advance Rutgers competitive position, to level “the playing field with other universities” within the Association of American Universities and the Big Ten Conference, according to DEVCO.  It will “provide students within the Rutgers Honors program with a new, collegiate residential experience” with an environment for “small group study, faculty mentor, and a wide range of specialized cultural and social activities across all disciplines,” according to the public plans by DEVCO. The new Honors College is slated to house around 500 students, says Dowd.

Lot 8 will be the site of the majority of the new buildings, being the previous home to famous Grease Trucks of Rutgers on the corner of College Avenue and Hamilton Street. The Grease Trucks have been relocated to sites throughout Rutgers in response to the outrage from students after the announcement of their removal.

An apartment-style building will be built on Lot 8 that should be more appealing for an on-campus living experience. They will feature single-bedroom apartments that will have up to four bedrooms per apartment, welcoming common areas, Wi-Fi, and first-class retailers and concessions, says DEVCO’s public plans.

The area in front of the new apartment housing will be public green space that will serve as an urban park with a boardwalk and a large outdoor video screen that is to “help create a sense of community.”

For many future Rutgers students, this should majorly improve the housing experience.

“Additional beds, in general, will allow Residence Life opportunity to increase supply,” says Dowd, “given the demand to live on College Avenue Campus for reasons such as access to the train station, resources on the CAC campus, students who have classes within majors on College Avenue, among others. It also provides greater selection of apartments and certainly a new environment for those in the Honors program.”

Calcado’s status report estimates the completion of the College Avenue Redevelopment Initiative to be during the summer of 2016 as long as everything goes as planned.

Assistant Director Dowd says the campus currently hosts approximately 3,625 undergraduate residents and that, between the Honors College and the new university apartments, there will be additional 1,000 residents on the College Avenue campus.

The renovations on the College Avenue campus of the resident halls, Hegemen, Luepp, Pell, and Wessels, will also add another 250-300 spaces once completed, Dowd continues.

These buildings are under extensive renovation to upgrade the dormitories to current building codes and address function efficiencies, according to Calcado’s status report. It will cost around $13 million to finish in the spring of 2015.

Yet, College Avenue will see a temporary loss in housing in the upcoming year.

After the spring semester, Rockoff Hall, the on-campus apartments located in downtown New Brunswick between the College Avenue and Douglass campuses, will become off-campus apartments.

Rockoff Hall will now be under the private ownership of McKinney Properties, according to an article published in The Daily Targumthat Dowd referenced. The private company will be renting on a “by-the-bed” lease. Instead of a joint rent with roommates, a student will be responsible for their own lease, not being liable if a roommate cannot pay their portion, according to The Daily Targum.

For Rutgers on-campus housing, this will be a loss of around 674 beds on the College Avenue campus, but the new housing projects will more than make up for it.

“It’s not a decrease in bed-space options,” says Dowd, “so it’s not a loss for RU students. It’s simply going to be fully managed by a private company.”