Student seeks to appeal student housing design

PSU junior Trevor Bryant and his organization, Formation of Independent Student Tenants (FIST), are seeking to change plans for the new six-story student housing. Bryant plans to appeal the planned building for the corner of Southwest Montgomery and 12th to the City Council this Thursday at 2:15 p.m. in City Hall.

Bryant hopes to convince the council that “serious design issues were never considered” and that students should have input in the design of their housing.

The plans call for the Birmingham apartments, built in 1911, to be demolished and replaced with a six-story structure that will have 130 studio units, as opposed to the current three-story 12-unit capacity.

Officially, Bryant’s complaints involve a failure in the design to include the required number of ground bicycle parking spots as well as a mandatory loading space for a building of this size, as well as concerns about its incongruence with the surrounding area and livability.

Though every new apartment will have bicycle hooks in its closet, Bryant said, “The studios will have only 220 square feet of space, which makes it unreasonable to put a bike in the closet. It’s not realistic if there’s not very much space to begin with.”

The building also does not currently have a loading zone in its design. Bryant said, “Instead of a loading zone, they plan to use the walkway between the new building and the adjacent one, which is currently used by pedestrians and bicyclists. This will only double the congestion and change the dynamic of the area.”

Also, according to Bryant, Central City guidelines require that architects and others seek to “embellish the existing area” and “be congruent with the rest of the neighborhood” with their designs, something that he feels they have failed to do so in this case. Currently, the design calls for exposed concrete and corrugated metal, as opposed to the organic brick look of the Birmingham and the other surrounding buildings from the same period.

Bryant feels strongly that students should be made part of the design process for their housing. “The best future for a community is one that plans itself,” he said. Bryant also believes that there were a lot of promises made to the Design Commission that “were never adequately addressed.”

The new building is considered to be a “green” project, as it will reuse brick from the Birmingham and capture all rainwater for irrigation. Bryant noted that there is very little actual green in the design, with very few trees and no community spaces. The Design Commission itself called for more “soft areas” to be added, which means grass and other plants. “People are repelled by concrete,” Bryant suggested.

In addition, Bryant is at odds with the university’s demolition of older buildings in the area in favor of denser, less pleasing structures with high-efficiency studios, which are much smaller and more expensive per square foot.

“This would be okay at a more traditional university,” he said, “where there are mostly freshman coming in, but at PSU there are many families who are on a two-year waiting list for 2 bedroom apartments, as opposed to the six to nine month wait for studios.”

“Once built, the building will be here for years, and so I think it’s easier to change it before it’s built,” Bryant said. For the hearing he plans to gather support and find students who wish to testify for his case, and is sending out a newsletter through FIST to inform each tenant in student housing of the situation.