CC, administrators begin discussion of co-op expansion

With an evaluation of the Neighborhood System already underway, peripheral discussions have also been taking place amongst various administrators regarding a potential expansion of co-op housing.

Demand for co-ops has consistently outweighed availability over the past few years, with around three rising seniors entering the co-op lottery for every one spot available. According to Gail Rondeau, Campus Life assistant, 318 members of the Class of 2008 entered the co-op draw, as did 289 members of the Class of 2009 and 314 of the Class of 2010. To compound matters, the number of available spots decreased from 109 to 101 last year when the College dropped the Rectory as a co-op.

The promise to attempt to claim “unused” buildings on campus for new co-ops was central to the campaign platform of College Council (CC) co-presidents Mike Tcheyan ’10 and Lizzy Brickley ’10, who have initiated discussion on the matter with various administrators, including Dean Merrill, Assistant Director of Campus Life Aaron Gordon, who is in charge of Residential Life, and Associate Vice President for Facilities Diana Prideaux-Brune. According to Tcheyan, these sessions were meant to be an initial step in the long-term goal of finding a suitable building to be designated as another co-op.

Despite the talks being overshadowed by budget cuts last spring, Tcheyan explained that CC efforts are ongoing. “We are continuing our plan of obtaining another co-op and plan on re-entering in conversations with people who can help designate a building for co-op use,” he said.

Both Prideaux-Brune and Merrill said that the conversations have only been preliminary, and that further courses of action regarding co-ops will not be charted until the Neighborhood Committee has released its evaluation later this year. “Discussions regarding co-ops have been casual, and part of on-going discussions of campus planning and changing housing needs,” Prideaux-Brune said. “The College is continually reviewing changing campus needs, and housing is always a part of those discussions.”

“It’s clear that seniors love co-op housing, and how we understand co-ops will be tied into the future of the neighborhoods,” Merrill said. “We will want to discuss the future of co-op housing in the wake of the Neighborhood Committee’s report.”

Merrill noted the recent decision to increase enrollment as an additional factor in the discussions. “This is an important issue because there is a housing crunch on campus right now,” Tcheyan added, referencing the recent conversion of several singles and common rooms into doubles, most noticeably in Morgan and the Frosh Quad.

Prideaux-Brune identified building code issues, energy efficiency and location as the “critical factors in selecting and converting houses to alternative uses.” The severe reduction in the building renewal budget enacted by former President Schapiro last spring could also inhibit renovations.

Steve Klass, vice president for operations, said he has not been involved in the discussions up until this point, and that he and his office will not be unless Merrill should make a decision to formally evaluate the possibility of expanding co-op housing options. “[In that case] the discussion would be broadened to the operations areas within the purview of my office to discuss the logistical and financial issues involved,” Klass said. He identified several factors that would inform decision-making, including the geographic location of the building (including its proximity to campus and the various neighborhoods), zoning and building code issues, and the cost of renovations and furnishing. “The matrix of issues we’d evaluate are the same for any building that would come under consideration,” Klass said.

Prideaux-Brune said that as of yet, no buildings on campus have been formally identified in the talks. However, Tcheyan mentioned Siskind and Kellogg, former homes of the Outing Club and Center for Environmental Studies, respectively, as likely candidates for conversion, as well as empty College-owned apartments on Southworth Street.

Siskind has been mostly unused over the past few years, ever since the Outing Club’s office and storage were relocated to Paresky in the spring of 2007. Professor Sarah Gardner’s environmental planning workshop “ENVI 302″ has been working with David Dower, director of Facilities planning and construction, to outline potential future uses for Kellogg, which is slated for relocation once construction of the new Stetson-Sawyer Library commences. According the Chris Law ’10, a student in the course, the building is being considered for use as a co-op, office space “its previous function” or a single-family residence, the most cost-effective possibility. Kellogg is currently serving as a temporary storage facility, and is protected by law from demolition due to its historical significance as a former presidential residence of the College.

Several seniors have responded favorably to Tcheyan and Brickley’s agenda, including both those currently living in co-ops and those who are not. “I don’t want to rush to join the real world, so I feel no need to rent off campus. But, the co-op system seems like a nice compromise that offers more independence,” said Teri Hoffman ’10, who is one of several seniors living in West. “From my point of view, more co-ops would be awesome, even though I won’t ever live in one.”

“Having the opportunity to live in a co-op has been one of the high points of my senior year,” said Dave Moore ’10, a resident of Lambert, a co-op on Latham Street. “It’s a great way to transition from dorm life to the independence of the real world, and this school would be a better place if more people were given that opportunity.”