Air conditioning for dorms in August. Tastier cafeteria food. Serving alcohol on campus to keep the kids from chasing the brewskies in town.
Those ideas surfaced during a testy back-and-forth over town-gown relations in Hamden.
The discussion took place at a meeting of the Hamden Planning and Zoning Commission. It was a mandated annual discussion between the commission and the university on housing issues. Sal Filardi, Quinnipiac University’s vice president for facilities and capital planning was in attendance and fielded questions.
The issue is an ongoing one in Hamden; a pending civil lawsuit addresses the question of whether the town can require the university to have students live on campus, for instance.
Quinnipiac has a record number of its students—some 2,350 out of about 7,000—living off campus this year. Town planners and officials had that in mind Tuesday night as they discussed potential improvements for the Quinnipiac campus. (Click here to view the most recent housing and enrollment data and related information submitted by the university.)
The aim: to have more Quinnipiac University students live on campus instead of off to address a quality of life complaints from north Hamden homeowners about thoughtless parking, drinking, and late-night noise.
Several commissioners noted, with evident frustration, that those complaints have increased for years as more students move off campus. Last year 30 percent of seniors lived on campus, noted Commission Vice Chair Joseph McDonagh. This year the figure dropped to 25 percent.
“I’d like to know why it’s a downhill fall,” said Commissioner Robert Roscow.
Filardi asked for patience as university has a new president and is in the midst of a revisioning and master planning process.
That didn’t sit well with Commissioner Michele Mastropetre. “We’ve been having this conversation for years. Specifically what are you doing? What are the students telling you [they need in order to have life on campus alluring enough to live there]?”
Filardi: “It’s not that simple.”
Mastropetre: “You could do surveys.”
“We do,” Filardi replied, and then offered the commissioners some of the ideas that are emerging, although he could not commit to them as definite steps to be taken at this point.
“Currently we’re looking at providing air conditioning in residence halls. We’re also looking at improvements to furniture, especially in the common spaces,” he said. “And a revamped food service.”
Mastropetre asked if these improvements will affect residence halls that in a previous master plan the university had promised to build on its York Hill campus/
“No, not yet. But we’re [also] planning things like sit-down dining, and maybe some alcohol service,” Filardi responded.
“These things are not too difficult to implement,” responded Mastropetre. “We have a serious situation, one third off campus and creating a lot of problems. There’s money for a lot of things, but not student housing? You guys have to do something. Every year you come back, and it’s the same thing. We’re going in reverse.”
“We’ll try to implement things this summer. We’re not just planning,” Filardi said.
Roscow asked if the new dorms at York Hill have kitchens. The answer was yes, which turned the discussion to larger issues of quality of life, culture, entertainment on campus, and how to keep students on campus.
“They feel more private” in a home setting, Filardi said. “A dorm feels like an apartment. There’s a bigger feeling of freedom” in a house setting.
“The Quinnipiac campus is nice, but I doubt the rooms are as nice,” said Commission Chair Brack Poitier. “If you give them a bunk bed, you’re saying you’re not investing in them. What you want kids to say is, ‘I went there and they treated me like a million bucks.’”
Poitier conceded he had himself had not visited the dorms.
“I lived on and off campus,” said Roscow. “The big attraction at Yale is what happens at the college. I can’t emphasize enough,.”
Filardi promised to share student surveys with commissioners as well as provide them with updates as soon as university officials can commit to specific plans.
“I apologize,” Filardi concluded. “There’s a new administration, and the new plan will be informative. I guarantee you residential life is an important piece of it.”
Town Planner Dan Kops said that according to recent surveys that the town has conducted of residents, behavior of students in rented homes is “a significant issue.” Four unrelated adults living together in a house is the town standard, he added.
The issue is not behavior in houses owned by the university, which are monitored, Kops said, but in the homes of owner/investors who apply for and receive permits to rent their homes to students.
According to documents Kops distributed to the commissioners issued and pending are approximately 430 permits, corresponding to approximately 1,600 students living in approximately 430 houses. Roughly 40 of the permits are for university-owned houses. Other students living off camps live at home or in multi-family buildings.