One week after news of a potential satellite residence for undergraduates sparked a firestorm of student opposition, university administrators will hold a series of open forums on housing options beginning today.
Few details have emerged on the satellite considerations and proposed alternatives, as student leaders and school officials remain deeply divided on the subject. A petition against the satellite residence proposal received 412 signatures in just three hours Sept. 9, initiating a student-wide referendum set for Sept. 26.
The Hoya sat down Monday with Vice President for Student Affairs Todd Olson, Vice President for Planning and Facilities Management Robin Morey and Associate Vice President for Community Engagement and Strategic Initiatives Lauralyn Lee, the addressees of an open letter sent Sept. 12 by the One Georgetown, One Campus campaign.
Administrators say they are open to reviewing the five alternatives proposed by the student campaign. Olson said that a survey is in the works to gauge student housing preferences, which will likely be released in October. In the meantime, Olson and Morey hope the six forums to be held periodically through Oct. 2 will answer the call for greater student engagement, a recurring subject of discontent since the 2010 Campus Plan agreement was reached in July 2012.
Georgetown University Student Association President Nate Tisa (SFS ’14) said the housing survey, which was discussed with student leaders earlier this year, misses the mark for effective engagement.
“The survey wasn’t talking about the options. It asked things like, ‘Do you want a pool?’ or ‘Do you want a Metro stop?’ without getting to the core of the issue,” Tisa said.
No new specifics on possible satellite residences were announced. The sites in consideration — Clarendon, Va., the Capitol Hill neighborhood and north of campus on Wisconsin Avenue — would require students to be shuttled several miles to and from the Hilltop. Morey said other satellite proposals have previously been rejected — either for expense, size or distance from campus. He noted that any location being considered would require a lease of seven to 10 years.
The transitional GUSA senate voted unanimously Sunday in favor of a resolution calling for the university to consult student representatives on any housing option before making any major decision. All senators co-sponsored the resolution, which is unusual as a bill requires only a few signatures.
“It’s crucial that the student body be informed on all on-campus options that the administration has considered,” GUSA Speaker George Spyropoulos (COL ’14) said. “We do not like what we have heard so far, and we want to know what else is on the table.”
Morey said the university hopes to engage in a more conceptual discussion of the options before pursuing an arrangement with private developers. School officials acknowledged that a temporary phase may be necessary to meet the requirement of 385 new beds by fall 2015.
The three administrators maintain that a sufficient number of upperclassmen will take interest in a satellite residence option, which could house several hundred occupants. They added that graduate students have voiced significant interest in university housing and could share occupancy of the building, as could faculty members.
Zach Singer (SFS ’15), GUSA chief of staff and co-director of the One Georgetown, One Campus effort, said Monday that he has not spoken with a single student who supports a satellite housing option. Singer says about 95 percent of students with whom he has spoken have been adamantly opposed to the proposal.
Student commentary on the satellite proposal has left little room for negotiation.
“People from all strands of the Georgetown community would be profoundly affected and dissatisfied if the satellite campus proposal were implemented,” Spyropoulos said before the resolution vote.
Lee was quoted last week as being critical of the referendum, elaborating Monday that she supports a more dynamic method for soliciting input. Singer, however, defended its efficacy in moving this process forward.
“In light of the Northeast Triangle,” Singer said in reference to the dormitory proposal that met backlash this summer, “the referendum seemed like the best way of voicing student opinion on the satellite campus while there was radio silence for any alternatives.”
Olson said that the university would take into account the student referendum. He would not commit to scrapping the proposal altogether if returns are overwhelmingly negative, as many project.
Alternatives proposed by the student campaign include converting and expanding the Leavey Center Hotel and Conference Center; renovating the Ryan and Mulledy buildings near Dahlgren Quadrangle, which served as the Jesuit residence until 2003; retrofitting St. Mary’s Hall for student housing while moving its current components to Ryan and Mulledy; renovating the Kober-Cogan building at the medical center; and constructing temporary modular apartments in the McDonough Gymnasium parking lot.
Olson, Morey and Lee said that all of these proposals have been considered with the exception of modular apartments. The Leavey Center proposal was introduced by the university in August 2011 as an integral part of the housing solution. That project was passed by in favor of the Northeast Triangle, and GUSA leaders are now pressing the university to reconsider it as an alternative.
Renovations to Leavey Center to accommodate student housing would cost roughly $8 million according to Morey, which does not account for the loss of revenue from the hotel. Olson and Morey also stressed the importance for the campus community of having a hotel, something they are reluctant to sacrifice.
GUSA Vice President Adam Ramadan (SFS ’14) travelled with several university housing officials to Boston College last weekend, where modular apartments were introduced in the 1970s because of a similar housing crunch. Now, Ramadan reported, modular housing has become an overwhelming success, with students jockeying to fill the space each year.
As an analogy to this situation, Olson cited the construction of the Southwest Quad in 2003, when faculty demanded that priority be given to academic space. After planning could develop and money could be raised, Olson noted, Regents Hall, the Hariri Building and the Davis Center were soon enough constructed.
Today’s housing forum will be held from 12:30 p.m. to 2 p.m. in O’Donovan Hall, with Lee in attendance. Olson will attend a breakfast meeting in the dining hall Friday morning.