Hall phones in new University of Pittsburgh dormitory recall earlier era
By Debra Erdley
Published: Friday, Aug. 16, 2013, 9:23 p.m.
The University of Pittsburgh will buck national trends in student housing next week when it opens its newest residence hall.
Unlike the high-end, suite-style residence halls that have popped up on campuses across the nation for the past decade, Mark A. Nordenberg Hall, a 559-bed, 10-story building on Fifth Avenue in Oakland, is a throwback to the era of small dorm rooms, communal bathrooms — and yes, hall phones.
“This is the first building we've built without a phone in every room. When students arrive today, they all have cellphones,” said Jim Earle, Pitt's assistant vice chancellor for business.
Dean of Students and Vice Provost Kathy Humphrey said designing a dorm that would encourage students to interact and gain a sense of connectedness in the large urban university was a top priority.
“This is a generation that could easily stay in their rooms all the time. They bring phones and computers. They stay connected digitally. … Many of them have not shared a room, ever. Many of them have not shared a bathroom,” Humphrey said.
Pitt's new $59 million residence hall is named for the university's outgoing chancellor, who will step aside in August 2014.
The building has retail outlets on the first floor as well as Pitt's wellness and counseling centers on the second floor, and was a departure from recent university residential building projects — an expansion of the Bouquet Gardens apartments and the construction of two residence halls that featured suites as well as traditional dorm rooms.
All of the three dozen new residence halls built at the 14 universities in the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education over the past 12 years are suite-style facilities, said Karen Ball, the system's vice chancellor for external relations. Ball said state system universities do not build traditional dorms.
“I've been told the switch was driven by consumer demand,” Ball said.
Indeed, the 2012 College Housing Report, a survey of residence construction nationwide, found that 51 percent of students ranked quality housing a top priority when choosing a college.
“Students' priorities still appear to be amenities, privacy and single units — a ‘hotel' rather than a ‘college' experience,” the report concluded.
At Pitt, which logged a record for applications this year, officials suggested that research shows students don't always thrive in such settings and that many are more concerned with the quality of their education.
Pitt spokesman Ken Service said the university chose to look at what students need to succeed as opposed to what they want. Moreover, Pitt officials note that the university, which now has campus housing for nearly 8,000 students, offers suites and apartments that students can move into as they move up the ranks.
Pitt junior Tory Hains, 20, sauntered into the new residence hall sporting a cartoon character Pitt hoodie on Friday morning as Humphrey was leading a tour.
“I might have the best job on campus,” said Hains, a Murrieta, Calif., native who grinned as he explained that he is among 16 resident assistants who will oversee freshmen in the new dorm this fall.
Pitt will house about 3,860 freshmen in residence halls in Oakland this fall.
In Nordenberg Hall, the communal bathrooms are equipped with private toilets and showers. There are no urinals, a feature that will allow the university to switch wings from male to female occupancy as needed.
The small double rooms contain 200 square feet and feature two single beds that can be bunked. Unlike dorm rooms of yore, they come equipped with small refrigerators, microwave ovens and flat-screen TVs. There is a small fitness room on the third floor and a plaza and green roof that will feature picnic benches in a third-floor courtyard.
The charge per semester is $3,400 for a double room and $3,200 for a triple.
Debra Erdley is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-320-7996 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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