Nfld. & Labrador

Empty beds, house closure at Memorial University's Paton College

It's a far cry from the student housing crunch at Memorial University, with the older residences on campus reporting empty beds just weeks before classes start.

Wait list for new residence, but many students don't want to share a room

More students are turning down residence rooms at Memorial University, if they have to share. (Memorial University)

Less than a month before the start of the fall semester, Memorial University's Paton College residence complex in St. John's has 140 empty beds.

There's a wait list for the brand new MacPherson two-wing residence, located nearby on the St. John's campus, and for 12 family housing units at Burton's Pond. The 86 rooms for graduate students, at the Battery, are also full.

"We've encouraged everybody on the list to come over to Paton College, but it's not likely to change three weeks out from the semester [starting]," said Bruce Belbin, the director of student residences.

Memorial University students marched through campus in May to protest a a 30 per cent hike in residence rates. (Gary Locke/CBC)

Belbin said that number of empty beds in the 1,000-bed complex is "not typical," but today's students don't want to share, he said. They want their privacy.

"Traditional residence may not appeal to the 18-year-old," said Belbin. "It's a different living environment."

He admitted it could also be related to a 30 per cent increase in residence fees, enacted in December 2015. It now costs $2,200 a semester to stay in Paton College, running to between $4,500 and $4,700 when a mandatory meal plan is factored in.

Shutting down Hatcher House

The university has responded by shutting down Hatcher House, the smallest of its Paton College houses — which has a 22 per cent occupancy rate — and redirecting 19 students to other houses.

That will save money by reducing operating costs, Belbin said. The building can also be used for meetings and conferences.

Memorial University is relocating the 19 students who had been given room assignments in Hatcher House, and will use the building for conferences and other services. (CBC)

Students have complained about the short notice, and housemates are not happy at being split up.

"Hatcher House is just as much my home as the one I moved away from, and I know that I'm not alone in thinking that," said Sydney Vidito, a student from Greenwood, N.S.

"As a house, we've even been offered a corporate sponsor for next year, and if approved by the school, the money we'd make through that would go towards more events for the house members. Informing us that our house is being closed now, after extensive planning for the upcoming school year, is unacceptable."

Rooms in the new MacPherson residence complex cost $2,500 dollars a semester, compared to $2,200 at the older Paton College buildings, but there is a wait list. (CBC)

Meanwhile, Belbin said the university is encouraging students to consider Paton College as a housing option, but he does acknowledge that there are more affordable options off campus because of the downturn in the oil industry.

He said Memorial University will consider its options, including a retrofit of some older buildings to accommodate more students with families, and will consult with student organizations about the best way to proceed.

Corrections

  • A previous version of this story incorrectly stated meal plans in Paton College cost more than $4,000 a semester. In fact, those prices included meal plans and accommodations.
    Aug 12, 2016 8:39 PM NT

With files from the St. John's Morning Show

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