The future of campus living? New complex provides students with more options

The view of the entrance to the new apartments. (Photo courtesy of McAlister Development Company)

In the fall of 2011, the Office of Residence Life and Housing faced a serious issue. The percentage of freshman applicants who decided to come to the College of Charleston was much greater than the Office of Admission had expected, leaving many students who submitted their deposit after the May 1 deadline in forced triples or in residence halls typically for upperclassmen. Some students even moved off campus. In previous years, these students were assigned housing despite missing the deadline.

As a result of the expanding student population, as well as an internal desire to increase the percentage of students who live on campus (currently 30 percent of undergraduates), other options were considered.

Early in 2012, the College sent out a request for proposals (RFP) in order to build a new dorm on campus. Two proposals were submitted and one moved forward into discussion.  However, the administration decided to put any and all building plans on hold.

John Campbell, the Dean of the Department of Residence Life and Housing said, “We’re always looking at [the issue], but right now we’re not as energetic in trying to build a new dorm.”

As a state institution, if a new dorm were to be constructed, the plans would need to be approved in Columbia. This process typically takes eight to 12 months.

Campbell emphasized the impact this wait time had on the plans. He said, “It wasn’t even money; it had more to do with the time needed for the project and the time needed as a state institution to go forward with the project.”

While the College may not be building a new dorm any time soon, Anthony McAlister, private developer and founder of McAlister Development Company has already broken ground on a new project. The parking lot to the rear of Kickin’ Chicken and some of its surrounding space, is currently in the process of being converted to private student apartments. Construction started on Aug. 20, 2012.

His company, based in Mt. Pleasant, has led the development for numerous other projects on campus including: Kelly House, McAlister Hall, Liberty Hall and the George Street Apartments.

Although McAlister submitted a proposal to the College to build the new dorm, he decided that he could not wait for approval from the state. If so, he would jeopardize losing the space and face increasing construction costs. McAlister said, “Something like this doesn’t happen overnight…. but it’s something we are passionate about and feel we know a lot about.”

The new building, 190,000 square-feet in size, will house over 400 students in apartment style suites with two, three or four bedrooms. The set-up of the rooms will be similar to that of the George Street Apartments, which McAlister also developed. McAlister said, “Everything we’ve built is apartment style, and this will be bigger than George Street [Apartments] with more amenities.”

The building itself consists of eight floors, and reaches the city’s maximum height allowance for buildings set back from the street. The first floor will house a 14,000-18,000 square foot gym facility as well as a data center with access to both printers and computers, and the upper floors will all serve as residences with a centered courtyard. In comparison, the Fitness Center located in the Stern Student Center is 2,000 square feet.

Large emphasis will also be placed on landscaping and outdoor seating areas. McAlister said, “We wanted to make it as pedestrian friendly as possible, but in an urban environment that’s always difficult.”

The first floor of the complex will house a large gym and a data center, as well as common areas. (Photo courtesy of McAlister Development Company)

In addition to the new construction, McAlister is also developing an adjacent storefront space on King Street, which will soon be home to a large retailer. The total cost for combining the two properties and completing projects is approximately $62 million.

The predicted completion date for the project is Aug. 15, 2013, giving McAlister and his construction crew a little shy of a year’s building time. This time constraint should not be a problem. McAlister said, “Every project we’ve had we’ve had to fast track and we’ve completed all of them.”

Since these apartments are privately owned, they will be run similarly to any other off campus property. A flat rental fee will be charged in addition to a utilities fee. However, McAlister plans to bundle all of the utilities, including water, sewer, power, Internet and cable together to make things easier on the residents.

McAlister said the cost of living in these apartments will be comparable and most likely less expensive than living on campus in the George Street Apartments, including utilities.

McAlister also emphasized that his primary focus is on the students. As a former student, and a father he wants to focus on keeping students close to campus in a safe environment. He said, “Since the beginning we wanted new, clean and manageable housing for students… I would hope that people who are having to live further away will be able to live here.”

In regard to the construction of these new apartments, Campbell said, “We think there are probably a lot of students who feel it is close enough to campus… and frankly, another draw for it is it’s not college controlled housing.”

While McAlister admits he would consider working with the College in the future, this project is completely privately owned at the moment, similar to when Kelly House first opened as a privately owned student residence in 1995. There is a possibility that the management will be outsourced.

Another issue McAlister hoped this building would address is the conflict between neighborhoods and student renters. He describes this as a serious community issue, and said, “I couldn’t believe the private sector wasn’t doing anything about this.”

Campbell said, “Neighborhoods by and large don’t like rental properties and especially the college students because they feel it changes the character of the neighborhood.”

McAlister believes it is important to keep both the students and Charlestonians happy because both groups have a huge local impact.

“The College and its students have a huge economic impact in this area,” McAlister said, “Retailers are really benefitting from students being here.” The new building will provide a new option for students and they will have the ability to live in close proximity to the campus, without being in a residence hall.

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