St. Olaf College announced the initiation of a “housing master plan project” aimed at more fully understanding and improving the housing experience of St. Olaf students. The March 12 email announcing the project stated that the college will be partnering with Workshop Architects and the Scion Group to analyze how well current housing meets student needs and how St. Olaf can improve housing quality.
“The housing master planning study underway now will explore housing unit types and amenities that best respond to evolving student needs, determine whether to replace existing units or renovate and the timeline those projects might take and evaluate potential financing strategies,” Janet Hanson, Vice President and Chief Financial Officer, said.
According to Hanson, the housing review is not in response to any specific concerns, but rather an effort to determine housing needs and trends proactively. The project was initially called for in May of 2015 in the Office of the President’s Strategic Plan.
Jan Van Den Kieboom of Workshop Architects described his firm as an interior design and architectural planning organization specializing in student life facilities. According to Van Den Kieboom, Workshop primarily works on student unions, residence life projects, dining facilities and recreational sports facilities.
The Scion Group will be working in collaboration with Workshop. According to Mike Porritt, Vice President of Advisory Services of the Scion Group, his firm will offer consulting services related to student housing. These include planning and feasibility consulting (how much housing is needed), operational consulting (improving residence life operations) and development consulting (helping the College through the process of construction and renovation).
According to Hanson, Workshop Architects and the Scion Group were chosen for their extensive work with other colleges planning renovations and construction projects of student housing and student unions.
The two groups will visit St. Olaf three times over the course of the review to solicit feedback from students and administrators, analyze student housing and present their observations and recommendations for housing changes.
Their first visit, which took place March 19 through March 21, consisted of a campus tour of residence halls and honor houses, focus group sessions, interviews with students and discussions with staff members. Additionally, Workshop and Scion plan to send out a web-survey to obtain further student input.
“Our interest is in how physical environments impact relationships, and so that’s what we’re trying to understand today, especially on this trip, is, how are relationships like on this campus?” Van Den Kieboom said. One of Workshop’s initial takeaways from touring St. Olaf is that students still want places to socialize in their residence halls even with the existence of Buntrock Commons and its many social spaces.
Workshop and Scion’s second visit will be from April 19 through April 21, and will consist of interactive workshops aimed at sharing potential design plans and collecting student and staff feedback. Van Den Kieboom envisions developing an interactive process similar to one they did recently at the Georgia Institute of Technology.
“We had a big campus map, and then we had students just add these stickers where different types of outdoor activities should occur, and then we use that to start to develop patterns of how the buildings and the landscape will start to interface,” said Van Den Kieboom.
The two organizations will present their findings during their last visit in late May, during which they will submit recommendations for student housing changes, observations of current campus conditions and student feedback, analysis of the off-campus rental market, overview of housing at similar colleges and analysis of student housing demand.
While the housing review was initially slated for the spring of 2016, extenuating circumstances caused the review to be pushed back two years.
“The College updated its Framework Plan in 2016 and last year completed a revised capital project planning process. The housing study was put on hold until these two projects were completed,” Hanson said.