College Station on the rise

Although Portland State formally announced its plans on March 30 for College Station, the university’s latest student housing project at Southwest Jackson Street and Fifth Avenue, the building’s construction is already well underway.

Although Portland State formally announced its plans on March 30 for College Station, the university’s latest student housing project at Southwest Jackson Street and Fifth Avenue, the building’s construction is already well underway. Due to open in fall 2012, the 16-story high-rise will add 978 beds to the on-campus housing options.

The project’s design is the result of extensive collaboration between PSU and American Campus Communities (ACC), a Texas-based real estate firm known for its highly popular, amenity-rich student housing projects. Today, ACC is the nation’s largest developer, owner and manager of student housing, according to Gina Cowart, ACC’s vice president of Investor Relations and Corporate Marketing.

When finished, College Station’s housing units, with the exception of the studios, will be fully furnished apartments with both private and shared occupancy on offer, according to Cowart.

“The building is designed to facilitate social interaction with the concept of ‘neighborhoods’ located on every third floor, with each neighborhood featuring a social lounge, laundry area and study rooms,” She said.

In addition to housing PSU students, College Station will contain classrooms, a fitness center, an outdoor courtyard, bottom-floor retail space, mailrooms, management offices and an interior pedestrian corridor connecting one side of the building to the other so that students need not walk around the block to get to campus, according to Mark Gregory, associate vice president of finance and administration.

“Thanks to a unique partnership between PSU, TriMet and ACC, College Station is located at a light-rail station with adjacent bus stops, creating a truly pedestrian environment,” Cowart said.

In fact, according to Gregory, this transit-oriented development is the very reason it has been named College Station: The project has been designed from the ground up to be integrated with public transportation.

Partnered with local firms Walsh Construction and SERA Architects, ACC responded to the university’s September 2008 RFP (request for proposal) for student housing and was awarded the project in March 2009 through a competitive process, Cowart said.

All told, ACC is pouring $90 million of its own money into the housing project. The company will own the building, collect profits by renting out the rooms to students and lease the land from PSU, making a net profit for the university as well.

Because ACC is the sole financer of College Station—thereby pulling money from Texas into Oregon—the project’s development hasn’t absorbed any tuition fees or state funding to get off the ground. Consequently, PSU and the wider community only stand to gain from the deal, according to Gregory.

“We didn’t pay out of pocket on this [project],” he said. “From an economic standpoint, it’s just a straight-up win.”

Jackie Balzer, vice provost of Student Affairs, gave two reasons why College Station is a good idea.

First, it is convenient for incoming students to have near-to-campus housing available. More on-campus housing draws more students from the city and from around the world.

“Whether you’re a transfer student or a new student, knowing you have to live in Portland, the easier we can make that, the better,” she said.

Second, students who live on campus spend more time on campus. Much of the education literature reveals that the harder a university works to build a campus community by enabling students to live on or near campus, the better the outcome is in terms of the student experience, according to Balzer.

“Students who spend more time in classrooms, gyms, with tutors, going to health services, hanging out in the student union, hanging out in the library do better,” she said. “[College Station] is a step towards being more and more of an engaged, residential campus.”

Gregory explained that by living on campus, students are more immersed in the overall college experience and are more likely to get actively involved in university programs, such as campus publications. Living in student housing, according to Gregory, can also help to reinforce student productivity and reduce extra-curricular distractions.

And from a practical standpoint, on-campus student residents don’t spend as much of their time figuring out life logistics, such as how to commute daily to and from campus.

“If [students] can fall out of bed and be in class, their likelihood of staying in their program is higher,” Gregory said.

What’s more, adding another thousand students to the area is expected to generate a surge of commerce in nearby businesses.

“It’s going to be tremendously important as an economic driver to have that many hungry students,” Balzer said. “I can imagine vendors in this area are thrilled.”

According to Gregory, roughly 7.5 percent of PSU students live in housing owned and operated by the university, while another 7 to 8 percent live in privately owned housing that caters to students.

After conducting a series of studies to determine the demand for on-campus student housing, it became obvious that there was far more demand for student housing than PSU could supply, according to Gregory. The construction of College Station is partly a response to that increasing demand.

The university’s goal is to have 20 to 25 percent of its students living on campus within the next several years, Gregory said. ?