Viewpoint

Cal Poly housing an important next step

April 28, 2014 

Ten years, 50 years, even a century from now, I believe the brightest students from around California, the nation and the world will compete for the chance to attend Cal Poly and experience our celebrated Learn by Doing education.

That’s no different than now, of course, except for this: I believe those students will expect to live on campus as long as possible — perhaps their entire undergraduate careers.

As we contemplate our long-term vision for Cal Poly, we are shifting our culture to become a predominantly residential campus. In the foreseeable future, Cal Poly will house more than half — perhaps as many as two-thirds — of its students in university housing.

This is, first and foremost, good for students. Studies consistently show that students who live on campus are more engaged and perform better academically and behaviorally.

I also sincerely believe it will be a positive change for the residents of San Luis Obispo. Our project is consistent with the city’s approved housing goals (General Plan Housing Element, approved 2010), which encouraged Cal Poly to continue to develop on-campus housing to lessen pressure on available housing in San Luis Obispo.

More students living on campus will result in fewer students living in the neighborhoods. We also know, from a 2012 housing study we commissioned, that immediate demand exists for 3,000 more on-campus housing units.

This culture shift will require major investment in construction and infrastructure changes in the coming years to make our campus a more vibrant and livable community.

We will enhance our engagement with the San Luis Obispo community in this planning effort. We share common interests, and Cal Poly is concerned with how the campus affects the surrounding community.

Creating more university housing will be a complex and long-term endeavor, but long journeys are made of single steps. Our proposed First-Year Housing South project, which will add about 1,400 new freshman on-campus beds adjacent to the Grand Avenue entrance by 2018, is the essential and indispensable next step toward the future.

We have held two public forums on the project, corresponded with our neighbors and collected public input on the project’s Environmental Impact Report. Along the way, we seriously considered and reconsidered more than half a dozen other possible sites.

This process confirmed that no other site will provide the required amount of freshman housing while keeping these new buildings clustered with existing first-year residence halls and other critical infrastructure. All other sites would result in a significant, unacceptable increase in project costs that would ultimately be passed along to students, parents and supporters.

Our residence halls are more than dorms; they offer academic and social support programs that are key to early academic success. Keeping freshman housing together allows us to maximize those programs. As well, we need to keep freshmen close to dining facilities, since freshman residence halls don’t have kitchens.

Because this infrastructure already exists nearby, and because other potential sites would require relocation of existing academic or administrative programs, the Grand Avenue site provides us with the best, fastest and most economical option for the greatest number of new beds — a powerful jumpstart to the expansion of on-campus housing.

We have heard the concerns about this project from the city and nearby neighbors. In consultation with various groups, we are working to address as many of these issues as possible.

As part of this effort, we plan to develop an agreement with the city that outlines some of these solutions and clarifies our existing and future partnerships. Among these efforts, we will commit to holding an annual public discussion of Cal Poly’s plans for enrollment growth and housing.

I believe this will strengthen our relationship and have positive benefits for our campus community and city neighbors. These cooperative efforts are illustrative of the long-standing positive relationship between Cal Poly and San Luis Obispo.

We know many of you care deeply about Cal Poly. You are our faculty and staff, our alumni, our parents, our students. We ask for your support of this housing project and our overall goals to bring more of our students into university housing.

Changes are afoot at Cal Poly — ones we believe will benefit both our campus and our community. But some things will never change: We remain committed to Learn by Doing, student success and excellence, and we recommit ourselves to being good neighbors by being receptive to the concerns of our community and open to working with residents and city leaders to keep San Luis Obispo the vibrant and inviting community we all cherish.

Jeffrey D. Armstrong is president of Cal Poly.

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