UNITY, Maine — Between the winter carnival, the competition for the Dean’s Cup and, of course, the classes, a lot is happening these days at Unity College.
Maybe that’s why more and more students of the private liberal arts college are choosing to live on campus, even though moving to a room or apartment in town would save them money, school officials say.
“When I first came here 19 years ago, two thirds of the student body lived off campus,” Stephen Nason, the director of residence life and assistant dean for student affairs, said Wednesday. “Now, two thirds live on campus. … last year, the numbers of juniors and seniors staying on campus increased 20 percent.”
Those changing numbers have led the administration to make a big investment in the future of on-campus student housing. Despite the freezing temperatures, construction will begin any day now on a brand-new 70-bed suite-style residence hall that should be ready for upperclassmen to move in by the beginning of the next school year. The college, which currently has 525 full-time students, will borrow the $4.2 million it will take to build the new residence hall. The 18,000 square foot hall is designed by SMRT Inc. of Portland and will provide more space per student than the other residence halls on campus.
The project should pay off, Nason said.
“We get a little more income, because we can charge room and board, and we get a stronger, more involved community on campus,” he said, referring to the festivities of the carnival week and the Dean’s Cup, in which residents of each dormitory compete for points. “We’ve been doing this for years now. It’s helped build a sense of community and belonging in residential areas.”
Nason said that campus and town officials are working together to get a very low interest rate for the project, which will be located on the top of the school’s soccer field and feature “gorgeous” views, as well as many green and energy-efficient features. That’s in keeping with Unity College’s focus on sustainability science and what it calls “ecological problem solving.” The new residence hall will be built to meet the silver LEED standards set by the U.S. Green Building Council.
“We’re making it very sustainable,” Nason said. “The south-facing roof will have a solar array, to help offset our costs of electricity. The walls are super insulated. And we’re heating it with a wood-pellet boiler, so it’s actually not using fossil fuels.”
He said that the students who will put their names in a lottery to live in one of the five-person suites are looking forward to the new housing option. If their name is drawn, they will choose their other four suitemates and have more home comforts than are usually available in dormitories, including their own lounge, separate shower and toilet rooms and a little kitchenette area that can be stocked with a microwave, hot plate and little refrigerator, Nason said.
“They love it,” he said. “They’re excited about it. They can’t wait.”