The Third Third

Bookin' It At 60

I’m too old to live in a dormitory. I decided that about ten years ago, at a college class reunion. It wasn’t just that I could no longer stay up all night for the gab sessions. I couldn’t sleep on the wafer-thin mattress and paper-thin sheets. I hadn’t brought my flip-flops for trips to the bathroom. I got constipated because the communal, co-ed johns intimidated me. And I somehow couldn’t manage to carry, or remember to bring everything I needed to wash my face and brush my teeth, much less shower and change. Dormitories, I decided, were for the young. There are colleges and universities in our country, however, that are thinking I am the perfect age for their dormitories. Well, not exactly their dormitories -- but a gussied-up apartment building adjacent to their campus where I’d live with others about my age to partake of the school’s rich intellectual and social environment. Just like when I was 18 – but with neither the stress nor the monasticism. I’ve got to say, it has a certain appeal. The movement to integrate active senior housing with colleges echoes the movement a generation or so ago to integrate active senior living with golf course communities but with, you might say, a higher purpose. Still, the idea is much the same: like-minded people choosing to live together in the comfort of their own homes, albeit new homes, to pursue activities and community in their retirement years. The concept is also catching on the way country club lifestyles did in the 1950’s: nearly 50 colleges and universities are currently engaged in planning with seniors and residential developers, and as many as 200 more – here and abroad -- are watching closely. It’s an easy sell to several groups, especially retiring professors who don’t want to leave campus life and urban residents who are reluctant to give up the culture and intellectual stimulation they’ve cultivated for decades, even if they have to give up a third floor walk-up apartment. Alumni and locals will be targeted, too. It’s a win-win for the university and the university town, as the latter won’t lose the tax base retirees represent to southern migration and the former will gain new year-round income – and donor - potential. And for many of the new dorm dwellers, it’s like a candy store: classes to audit, students to mentor, concerts and plays to attend, security, and top-notch facilities you can’t buy on the open market: a gym, computers, and university hospitals. Paul Grayson, an architect and professor at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, in Cambridge, MA, has been studying the possibilities for years. His group, University Residential Communities, LLC, now has a site near MIT and building plans for a 150-unit mid-rise structure built around a courtyard that incorporate the results of a prospective residents’ survey: apartments with a good-sized master bedroom and bath, a full-sized kitchen, and covered parking for one car at the least – and then an office and/or a second or third bedroom. Ownership won’t come cheap: costs are estimated to be $500 a square foot – so an 1800 sq. ft. apartment could be $900,000 and more – but studies have found a definite preference in the market for ownership and perceived feasibility as well, as residents will likely be former homeowners, with equity to invest. The Cooperative Retirement Services of America (CRSA) is also involved in campus housing for active seniors, notably at Louisiana State University (LSU) Baton Rouge, the University of Alabama, Tuscaloosa, and Penn State, in State College, PA. Campus Continuum is working with U. Mass/Dartmouth on an “enriched community lifestyle” facility with 100 units for 175 residents. Cornell, Notre Dame, the University of Florida at Gainesville, and the University of Michigan have campus connections with senior villages. Hampshire College in Amherst, MA, is working with Beacon Communities, Inc., and Lasell Village in Auburndale, MA, opened to 210 residents in 2000 and has a waiting list of 125. Many of these models operate like more traditional senior communities with assisted living and long-term care options, and instead of selling home ownership, collect “entry fees” of $200,000 or $300,000 and monthly dues near $3500 for meals, housekeeping, activities and healthcare. So far, the only issues to have been raised (besides affordability) are (1) the tax status of residential property on a college campus; and (2) the projects’ ability to attract the 55-plus crowd rather than 80 year-olds. How can you find your new dorm room? You may want to check with your alma mater first. It has a vested interest in keeping you happy (as a prospective donor) and may already have plans underway. If not yours, then the college or university in your town. Talk with your friends, acquaintances, classmates, colleagues and neighbors – people who might also enjoy and contribute to a new intellectually-centered community – and work to achieve an initial commitment (time and money) to some basic, common goals. Solicit professional expertise re: zoning regulations, tax implications, architecture, construction feasibility, demographic data, real estate values, health care availability, surveying prospective residents, and the interest of the university. Research other similar projects – those that are flourishing and those that failed. Plan on a six-year process – which is, curiously, about when people queried about their interest in such a venture say they think they might be ready, i.e. six years from whenever you’re asking! Dorm life resources
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