Study lounges solve housing crunch

Recently built Dalrymple Hall residence. Picture by Norwich University

The lounges in Dalrymple Hall and South Hall were designed as study spaces for civilian students, but for the third year in a row they are still being used to house up to as many as four students.

Still, three years of overflow housing in the lounges isn’t enough to convince Sean O’ Reilly, director of residential life and civilian housing, that Norwich needs to commit resources to expand living space for students.

O’Reilly said part of the space crunch may have to do with the fact off-campus housing is not “readily available,” suggesting the need for overflow housing isn’t driven primarily by incoming freshmen, but by returning upperclassmen who want to live on campus.

O’Reilly emphasized that he doesn’t believe that Norwich is admitting too many students to house because of the fact that there were still spaces available in quads and doubles. The only case when the director would worry about housing is if he still had a wait list.

O’Reilly has been able to house every student who wanted to live on campus, including students who completed their housing forms late and even “took care of new students who hadn’t completed their housing forms.”

Norwich’s dorms may appear to be overcrowded because of how civilian housing fills dorms as close to full occupancy as it can, noting the university needs fully occupied dorms in order to “make enough money to continue to run the operation.” Civilian housing reserves spaces over occupancy until opening day and some students don’t come to claim their spaces, similar to how airlines overbook seats on planes.

The housing director stated that he would only consider a proposal to expand living space by building a new dorm, if he saw a “5 to 15 percent increase” in the amount of students who want to live on campus. Until then, the study lounges will continue to house civilian students, he said.

Study lounges are furnished with the same bunkbeds and closets found in regular dorms. To give the occupants privacy, residential advisors (RAs) cover the glass walls to the lounges with paper or curtains.

Some argue that because the study lounges are an irregular living space, the students living there should be entitled to a lower cost for boarding at school. On the other hand, the study lounges have carpeting, a wall-mounted television, and a larger room space. O’Reilly believes that these perks are a sufficient enough trade for students to maintain the current housing rate.

Housing rates in all dorms are decided on the square footage of space provided per person, including the furniture provided per person and the amount of energy that is expended over the year. Single rooms cost an extra $750 dollars because of the extra square footage a student gains.

“The square footage is similar to those that live in a double or single environment,” O’Reilly said of the lounges. O’Reilly reasons that since “quads and triples have been such a common thing here, the feeling is that the same housing rate is appropriate.”

Some single room dorms have been occupied by Norwich cadets instead of civilians, raising questions on whether or not those cadets have taken rooms that could’ve gone to civilians. O’Reilly clarified that there were only a small number of cadets, who separated from the Corps and went through the housing process. Including the rooms cadets occupied, there were still vacancies left to be filled, he said.

The housing director goes through multiple waitlists when assigning single rooms. “I have fifth year students who are planning to graduate this December,” O’Reilly said “Those singles will be up and available for students that are coming back from abroad and students who are still on the wait list.”

According to the housing selection last spring semester, “at least half of the quads and half of the triples were actually volunteered to be lived in,” indicating that study lounges are a popular living space among students. If students had issues with living in triples they would have to wait until the first of October.

Residential advisors are on the front line in being aware of any issues that arise from students living in triples or quads. To help maintain order in the study lounges, the RAs prioritized having the occupants sign the roommate contract to establish rules within the dorm.

“Sometimes it’s hard because there’s so many competing personalities in a room that you’ll find have more roommate situations with those individuals” said Danielle Boucher, a senior nursing major and resident coordinator of South Hall from Newington, Conn. “Last year we had a couple different situations and it’s usually that one individual had a miscommunication with another individual.”

As Resident Coordinator, Boucher regularly communicates with the rest of the RAs and has not received reports of any major problems involving the study lounges as of yet. That may be due to the amount of students who volunteered to dorm in study lounges with their friends.

Quinton Dodge, 20, a junior construction management major from South Hadley, Mass., shares a study lounge with three other roommates and still finds himself impressed with how spacious the room is, supporting O’Reilly’s claim about equivalent square footage.

South Hall residence. Picture by Norwich University

“Although you have more roommates, you have way more space per person” said Dodge. Dodge described the room as having enough space to walk around or to just dance with the music on.

Besides the television and bunks, the roommates outfitted the study lounge with their own appliances such as a coffeepot, sound system, and Xbox. Dodge said that his roommate brought the sofas and a long table.

“With just two people in a regular-sized room like last year, I felt kind of claustrophobic,” said Parker Jensen 20, a junior biology major from Westford, Mass., who is another one of Dodge’s roommates.

From his time living in a double meant for two people, Jensen felt that he only had “two square feet of floor room and my bed” for himself. At least in the study lounge Jensen “can actually spread out and relax”.

“Having more than one roommate opens up an opportunity for more conversation,” Jensen added, “kind of more than just two people throwing ideas out. It’s a lot easier to collaborate.”

Although their room is bustling with social activity, Jensen and his roommates fairly divided space between one another and respect the boundaries that they’ve established, and friendship may have played a factor as to how they’ve integrated to their new life so smoothly.

“We didn’t have to acquaint with each other in the room. We were already good friends before we stuffed ourselves in the same room,” said Dodge. Dodge’s group already overcame the social awkwardness that two newly acquainted roommates may have months to work through; the only problem Dodge can think of in having so many roommates, is that there’s always someone in the room.

Dodge and Jensen admit that living closely with many people sacrifices one’s privacy, but it’s not a cause for concern in their room. “You have to be comfortable being around people all the time,” Jensen warned. “It depends on the person.”

Dodge and his friends are comfortable around each other, and their respect for each other’s space helps them maintain the lounge well enough to pass the health and wellness inspections conducted by RAs. Boucher remarks that when she went to help inspect the study lounges she found that some study lounges, even ones that housed four people, were in remarkable condition.

Common complaints about the study lounges are about the ventilation and the door which can only be locked on the outside. O’Reilly said that he will be discussing the matter with facilities operations “on what it would take to have those changed.”

“There is a cost associated with switching out those doors. It’s not just changing the locks,” O’Reilly said

Budgetary concerns are going to be a factor in launching a complete renovation of the study lounges, but heating and door locks are only minor inconveniences for occupants like Dodge and Parker.

Students overall appear to feel positive about living in the study lounges and unanimously agree that it’s a setting best experienced with their friends.

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