Residence halls go from drab to fab in recent years

ST. LOUIS – Amanda Johnson was on a mission to find the gym as she roamed a brightly lit hallway with a friend on move-in day last week.

“I can’t wait to go swimming,” Heather Schmoele told her as they checked out their new living quarters at the University of Missouri at St. Louis. A glistening pool beckoned outside.

Moving at almost a running pace past a game room with a poker table, Johnson paused, and said what both 18-year-old freshmen were no doubt thinking: “This is so sexy.”

Sexy wasn’t the first adjective that always came to mind when describing the cinder-block walls and community bathrooms of the Spartan and cramped dormitories of years past. But these days, residence halls – as they are now called (not the “d” word) – have undergone a makeover worthy of “Trading Spaces.”

Today’s residence halls offer not only fancier amenities but also more intimacy and convenience, with more single rooms and private bathrooms. In ways small and large, trends in student housing reflect changing lifestyles of today’s youths – from increased desires for privacy to the respect for choice and flexibility to the premium placed on aesthetics and design.

Administrators say that students today are more likely to have their own bedroom at home so they are demanding such privacy at school. U.S. census figures from the last decade show the average family size has gotten smaller while the number of bedrooms in houses has increased.

“The days of several students in one room and using gang bathrooms are over,” said David Miller, a planner and vice president of Cannon Design who specializes in university building projects.

While colleges can be consumer-driven, some are taking a more modest approach.

Webster University’s two new residence halls cost $15 million. The school didn’t want to focus on eye-popping amenities, but just good, solid design, said Deborah Dey, vice president for enrollment management.

Finally, the new residence halls are being used as a recruiting tool to attract students in a highly competitive market.