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Severn Hall renovations force students off campus

For the second time since 2011, the SU Housing Department has announced that rising seniors will not be eligible to apply for on-campus housing for the 2017-18 academic year.

The notification came in response to the decision to completely renovate Severn Hall.

The project, which is set to take place this upcoming summer, will be the long-awaited final step in SU’s Comprehensive Housing Renovation Plan (CHRP).

The CHRP began in May 2009 and was scheduled to be completed by 2013 with comprehensive upgrades to each of the campus dorm halls.

Most of the renovations done to other buildings such as Chester and Choptank were able to be completed during the summer.

However due to the intensive construction set to take place, SU is unable to guarantee that Severn will be open and ready to house incoming freshmen next fall.

The changes expected to be undergone include ceilings, wall drops, carpeting, bathroom tile and more.

Director of Housing and Residence Life Dave Gutoskey explained there are a lot of differences in what will happen with Severn compared to the other halls.

“We have to do some additional mechanical work in Severn, the second thing is in Severn the bathrooms only have one shower, so we have additional plumbing work,” Gutoskey said. “The chances of that getting all done next summer; we’re concerned.”

Plumbing is one of the key aspects to the upgrades, in a hall that does not have a great shower-to-tenant ratio. Gutoskey is hoping to change that this summer by almost doubling the number of shower heads.

In order to make rooms for the 236 students that are typically housed within Severn, SU Housing decided not to offer on-campus housing to seniors.

A similar situation occurred in 2011 after the construction on Nanticoke Hall was not ready in time for the school year, which was the only other time SU seniors were told they could not live on campus.

The announcement was made via email from Gutoskey, and was sent to all those who lived on campus.

The student response to SU’s decision varied, with the bulk of students who are unhappy falling into the category that is required to find off-campus housing now.

While a portion of students are unhappy with the decision, many were bothered by the communication, or lack thereof.

Junior Kelsey Chandler was one of those students.

“I feel like they definitely should’ve given more notice,” Chandler said. “About a month before housing sign-ups they are like ‘oh hey, you can’t live on campus.'”

Other rising seniors like Denel Robin and Italia Whetstone were annoyed that the only announcement was through email, and felt the Housing Department owed seniors more than just an email.

But Gutoskey sticks by the process that they have undergone, and believes that SU informed students of the decision as soon as they could.

“We had to wait, once the big went out we needed to see if companies were interested…we had to see some cards fall in a positive renovation direction,” Gutoskey said. “We could’ve made the decision a little earlier, but we didn’t have a crystal ball.”

While there is a mix of feedback, there is a population of rising seniors who are very angry with decision.

Robin and Whetstone were two students who planned to remain on-campus but now are not eligible to reapply.

Both students see a lot of extra problems that these soon-to-be seniors now are being forced to face.

“It’s easier because the rent and tuition is already together and all I have to do it move in, and rent at University Orchard and the Gathering is so steep,” Robin said. “I’m living on my own but [on-campus] I’m not stressing about the rent or the cable bill, I’m not stressing about the distance.”

Whetstone also felt confused with the entire plan from SU, and felt that the focus should be placed more on the incoming students rather than seniors who have been here.

“Why are you taking in an amount of students that you cannot afford to house?” Whetstone said. “It’s unfair because there are still people who cannot financially afford to live off-campus and pay month-to-month rent.”

Salisbury typically has a natural attrition of students after their sophomore year moving off-campus by choice.

Gutoskey feels that since these seniors have had their chance to live on-campus, it is time to move on.

“We accommodate the freshmen class like we did when [the seniors] were freshmen,” Gutoskey said. “It’s seniors year, I hope they’re ready and they’ve developed life skills of independence, and that’s the next step for post-graduation.”

Not only does he feel the importance in prioritizing the incoming freshman class, but Gutoskey sees that this could be a benefit for those taking that step to living on their own.

“I have some colleagues that believe your senior year you should be off-campus, because that next year you will be anyway,” Gutoskey said. “You’re going to have bills, lease and utilities you’ll have to pay…as you’re moving on to that next phase of life it can be a positive.”

Despite arguments that they are forcing people out of their comfort zone by moving off-campus, Gutoskey finds that it is better to do so now when there is more support in school.

But students still disagree, feeling that it is still a choice they should be able to make on their own.

“Yeah we have to grow up, yeah we have to live on our own, but forcibly? I think it should be more encouraging not forced,” Robin said. “It’s just another stressful thing I have to think about.”

The decision will have a larger affect than just the rising seniors who now must find other housing, but it can affect other students, such as transfers, seeking on-campus housing.

Salisbury claims that Severn Hall houses 236 students, with only 143 rising seniors moving to make room there is still a gap of students.

However, Gutoskey feels that they have ample amount of time and plans to make it all work.

“We know some of the RA’s are going to have to have roommates again to absorb some of that number,” Gutoskey said. “There will be some other students that don’t get housing from our waiting list.”

The main group of students seen on the waiting list for on-campus housing are transfer students that SU would like to be able to provide housing for, but at time are unable to find room.

For the bulk of students who now will live off-campus, Gutoskey feels they should have no problem finding housing.

In 2011 when SU made the same decision during Nanticoke renovations, there were a lot less options off-campus than there are today.

“That was especially hard on seniors then, [The Gathering and Orchard] weren’t online,” Gutoskey said. “Now we have those two facilities…as far as occupancy they still had space when we opened in the fall.”

University Orchard, which is one of the more competitive off-campus housing venues, will look to benefit from this decision giving them a larger pool of applicants.

The management which controls both Orchard and The Gathering tends to offer renewals to current residents initially. Later they open their applications to the general public.

“Last year we had a 45 percent renewal rate at UO, it’s typically anywhere between 40 and 50 percent,” Assistant Property Manager Jared Artman said. “For immediate move-in, we had possible three rooms that were unoccupied…we are still at 98 and 99 percent occupied.”

Despite the plethora of options for off-campus housing, it is clear that the market is already typically booked before adding the extra students.

While there was an explanation in the initial email for people to still be able to reapply, that was a special clause for those that were either required to remain on campus for financial aid, or those who need accommodations due to disabilities.

While theres is backlash, some students agree with the decision.

Junior Brady Phillips had already planned on moving off-campus, but does not see a problem with SU telling seniors they cannot stay on campus.

“I feel like once you’re a senior you should probably figure out the whole thing behind getting your own place and moving out,” Phillips said. “It’s that new chapter in life.”

The main questions that now faces students is whether this is a rule that could become permanent, with SU’s desire to house more transfers on campus.

“We have a lot of requests from transfers on-campus that we have not been able to accommodate, for example this fall we had over 800 transfers but only 43 lived on campus,” Vice President of Student Affairs Dane Foust said. “We are taking a ‘wait-and-see’ attitude.”



News editor

Featured photo: Salisbury University image.

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