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Pitt's master plan puts priority on expanding student housing

| Monday, March 8, 2010, 12:00 p.m.

When Summer Storti wanted to transfer from Michigan State University, the University of Pittsburgh agreed to admit her but could not house her on campus.

So every day, Storti drives 35 miles from Portersville in northern Butler County to the Oakland school.

"I left an hour early the other day, when it was snowing, and I was still late for class," said Storti, who lugs a large backpack around and kills time between classes in coffee shops and student lounges.

Undergraduate housing is in short supply on Pitt's campus, where the school promises undergraduates on-campus housing only through the first two years of school. The school's updated master plan puts a priority on expanding student housing.

On Tuesday, Pitt officials will introduce to City Council a plan outlining construction projects for the next decade. The city Planning Commission approved the plan last month. Each project will require separate approval before construction can begin.

The first project to be undertaken is an expansion of the Bouquet Gardens student housing complex, home to about 780 students. The school recently paid $1.4 million for property on Oakland Avenue south of Bouquet Gardens. The addition will house 150 to 200 students and is likely to be finished in fall 2011, university spokesman John Fedele said.

"Housing is always a concern at Pitt, and we are trying to address that problem. We are landlocked. We really do not have land that we are not using," said Park Rankin, the university's chief architect.

The school is spending $1.56 million to convert office space in Lothrop Hall into 47 new undergraduate beds. That will bring Pitt's total on-campus undergraduate housing capacity to 7,241 beds. The school is exploring building a 500-bed dormitory.

The master plan outlines additions to Posvar Hall and renovation of the Concordia Club, a three-story unused building at Fifth Avenue and DeSoto Street, into a student activity center. The school purchased the building in December.

The plan calls for expanding Pitt's Graduate School of Public Health at Fifth and DeSoto. The addition would house laboratories.

The addition to Posvar Hall could be used for academic, library, office or research purposes. It would be among the last renovations in this plan.

Pitt's expansions often become a contentious issue in Oakland.

"Our neighborhood should be the exemplary neighborhood, but it is filled with litter and trash and drunk students," said Carlo Giampano, who grew up in South Oakland.

School officials believe university housing improves the neighborhood, Rankin said.

"There are lots of dilapidated, blighted apartments in South, two-bedroom units housing four or five students," Rankin said. "Landlords are often from out of state, don't look after the building, and might not even pick up trash."

University housing is better equipped and better monitored, he said.

"In a dorm, there are resident assistants whose job it is to get students back into line," he said.

Some community groups support Pitt's plans.

"The issue of the expansion along Oakland Avenue is controversial. We would not want them to encroach into the neighborhood. But Pitt is a better landlord than many other landlords, and pretty thoughtful about how they go through the process," said Wanda Wilson, executive director of Oakland Planning and Development Corp., a community group.

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