Plan for Strengthening Student Residential Communities Moves Forward

A key component of the College’s current strategic plans, this multi-year, phased plan prioritizes an equitable living experience on campus and a better facility for student health and counseling.

18 November 2021 Posted In:
carleton sign in the snow outside the townhomes

As a residential liberal arts college with more than 95% of the student body living on campus, Carleton has begun sharing plans to strengthen its residential communities with a particular focus on campus cultural and interest houses.

“We are excited about the opportunities this plan will open up for creating more flexible, equitable, and attractive living spaces for Carleton students,” said President Alison Byerly. “This long-term conceptual outline is one element of the master housing and facilities plans that have been developed through the College’s strategic planning processes over the past decade.”  

The Plan for Strengthening Student Residential Communities will increase the number of beds on campus from 1,832 to approximately 1,900. New townhouses will be constructed on Lilac Hill on the north side of campus and on Union Street at the south side of campus. The plan also promises to strengthen the College’s commitment to cultural and interest housing.

“So many of our students are living in residential spaces,” said Carolyn Livingston, Vice President for Student Life and Dean of Students. “We’re really focusing on how we can provide a more equitable living experience for all our students.” 

An important impetus and outcome of the plan — once implemented — will be the creation of a new dedicated space for Student Health and Counseling (SHAC). Currently SHAC occupies an area in the lower level of Davis Hall in space originally built for student housing.  The new SHAC facility will be developed intentionally to meet the evolving student physical and mental health needs — concerns that have been highlighted during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Campus houses 

Most campus houses, built in the 1930s, can no longer adequately serve the students living in them. Newer houses and townhouses will offer more student space and important amenities like air conditioning and community space.

“The average age for many of these houses is over 80 years old,” said Vice President and Treasurer Eric Runestad. “Most of these houses were family homes before the college owned them. A single-family residence isn’t a practical place to house students anymore, and it’s also not a very good programmatic space to house students who are gathered around a particular interest.”

“We have not invested in maintaining these homes in the same way that we’ve been able to invest in our more traditional residence halls,” Livingston added. “We’ve had intentions to reimagine our residential spaces for the last 20 years, and now it’s time to shift our focus to develop plans to address the needs.”

Cassat Hall and James Hall, both completed in 2008, were the last major residence halls built on campus. 

“I think of this as a master plan for how we can strengthen and improve the student residential community living at Carleton,” Runestad said.

Plans for SHAC

The new SHAC facility will be constructed during the second phase of the project. Its current space in Davis will be turned back into residential housing.

“SHAC is a core feature of this plan,” Livingston said. “We’re trying to be in tune with the mental and physical health of our students, and we want to give SHAC a space where they can really maximize student health and counseling.” 

Timeline and cost 

The residential plan will take shape over a period of five years or more, in four phases, with an anticipated groundbreaking on the Lilac Hill and Union Street townhouses expected in the spring of 2023 or later. 

This stage of conceptual planning takes into account recommendations outlined in the 2012 Strategic Plan and 2014 Facilities Master Plan and identifies the more specific programming needs, as well as a budget range. The total cost for the Plan for Strengthening Student Residential Communities is estimated to be in the range of $60-70 million. 

“We are still in the beginning stages of Phase One,” Runestad said, including finding a suitable architect and creating plans for actual site development and design. “There’s still much planning work to do on all sides of the project.” 

“It’s a multi-year effort because of the way we are planning to build capacity,” he added. “We need to build up housing first so we can then move students into the newer units before we can address the older spaces.”

Community conversations

The Plan for Strengthening Student Residential Communities has been discussed and reviewed by the senior administrative team, College Council, and by the Board of Trustees during the Board October meetings on campus. Several community meetings have followed where details have been shared with faculty, staff, students and neighbors. 

“We are excited to move forward,” Livingston said. “We’ve given this plan great thought, and as we continue to develop these ideas, we want to let our community know where we’re headed.”

Livingston has already hosted several conversations with groups of students, including Resident Assistants, the Carleton Student Association and those living in cultural houses that will be affected by the plan. 

“All of these conversations will inform our thinking and provide ways for members of our community to give feedback,” she said. 

“When we take these high-level concepts and activate them — meaning start to figure out how we might configure particular townhomes, exactly where they’re located, and what type of programming happens in each space — there will be even more opportunities for input,” Runestad added.

Looking ahead

While it has been discussed for many years, the Plan for Strengthening Student Residential Communities is still just that — a plan. 

“This is a framework,” Livingston said. “This project did not start overnight, and it will not be completed overnight.”

“It might not solve all the residential problems,” she added, “but it will get us a little closer to managing the ones we have right now — inequity in living environments and identifying more functional space for a multi-purpose student health and counseling center. We’re really optimistic about what’s to come.”

Learn more about the entire plan, see renderings, and read answers to frequently-asked questions on the Facilities website