Cal Poly plans to build more student housing on campus

clambert@thetribunenews.com, acornejo@thetribunenews.comMay 15, 2013 

To fill a demand for more on-campus housing, Cal Poly officials announced on Wednesday their goal of building new student housing for 1,400 first-year students near the university’s Grand Avenue entrance.

The estimated $200 million project still needs approval from the California State University system’s board of trustees before construction could begin.

But if approved, Cal Poly officials hope to start building the new facility on a large parking lot located across from existing dorms on Grand Avenue in 2015 and to complete the project by the 2018-19 academic year.

San Luis Obispo Mayor Jan Marx commended the project, saying the city has long encouraged Cal Poly to build as much student housing as possible.

“In terms of workforce housing in the city, our best source is our existing housing stock,” said Marx. “Because of the number of students living in the city, rents tend to be pretty high.”

Marx hopes additional student housing would be built in the future, so that houses in the city can accommodate permanent residents.

University administrators said a study recently conducted for Cal Poly strongly suggested there is student demand for a total of about 10,300 beds in university housing. The study included an off-campus market analysis, a survey of students and student focus groups, among other factors, Cal Poly spokesman Matt Lazier said.

Cal Poly currently has a little more than 6,900 beds on campus, so the project would close more than a third of the 3,400-bed gap.

There are about 18,670 students enrolled at Cal Poly. There are enough beds on campus now to accommodate about 37 percent of those students.

If Cal Poly were to build the 10,300 beds recommended, 55 percent of students could live on campus. That number does not include expected enrollment growth.

“Providing more university housing for our students is a high priority,” Cal Poly President Jeffrey Armstrong said in a statement. “Research has repeatedly shown that students who live on campus are more engaged, perform better academically and are more likely to stay enrolled and graduate on time.”

Sandra Rowley, chairwoman of Residents for Quality Neighborhoods, a community group focused on preserving and enhancing San Luis Obispo’s quality of life, said she was pleased Cal Poly is including additional student housing as one of their priorities.

“Although this a great stride forward and we are very thankful, we hope that additional students can be housed on campus,” said Rowley. “2015 can’t come soon enough.”

Rowley said she would like to see the new student housing open in phases to minimize the impact on surrounding neighborhoods as students shift from city housing to campus living.

The new housing is not related to an anticipated increase in annual enrollment at Cal Poly over the next few years. Cal Poly expects to grow 1 percent to 2 percent a year, adding the equivalent of about 200 full-time students a year, Lazier said.

That increase is tied to Gov. Jerry Brown’s plans for funds from Proposition 30, which voters passed last November and which will provide additional money so universities can increase enrollment.

The university plans to finance the housing project by issuing bonds, which would be repaid with housing fees as students occupy the new facility, the news release stated.

A design team will be selected soon to begin initial design work for the project, which could also include a small parking structure at the far southeastern corner of the site to partially offset the loss of surface-lot parking.

There are currently 1,341 spaces in two parking lots across from the dorms on Grand Avenue, including a lot for students living in the dorms as well as general parking. Lazier stressed that plans are preliminary but added that the surface parking spaces that remain will likely be those located closer to the Performing Arts Center.

The project would also include a new welcome center, which would incorporate the functions of the current kiosk and possibly other amenities for students, relatives and their families.

Reach Cynthia Lambert at 781-7929 or follow @SouthCountyBeat on Twitter. Reach AnnMarie Cornejo at 781-7939 or follow @a_cornejo on Twitter.

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