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August 20, 2015

Bellevue College will open its first on-campus housing in 2018

  • The former community college is building new housing to provide an affordable alternative to high Eastside rents.
  • By RON van der VEEN
    NAC Architecture

    van der Veen

    When Bellevue College dropped “Community” from its name in 2009 and started offering four-year degrees, it also started planning for on-campus housing.

    With a growing population of international students — recent statistics show that Bellevue College enrolls over 1,700 international students annually from more than 70 countries — coupled with the rising cost of rent in the surrounding Eastside neighborhood, there was an obvious, immediate need to provide on-campus housing for students. And with Bellevue College’s commitment to inclusion and global awareness, a progressive live-learn community was the answer.

    Currently in design, the first phase of Bellevue College’s new student housing development will deliver a 350-bed residential community that is scheduled to open mid-2018.

    Live-learn housing

    It is no secret that a strong connection exists between students’ experiences living on campus and their overall academic performance. This knowledge, coupled with shifting demographics that are bringing more historically underrepresented students to college, has sparked the need for new models in student housing that accommodate the evolving student population.

    Rendering by NAC Architecture [enlarge]
    One way to integrate a new residence hall with the existing campus is to include features everyone can enjoy, such as shared recreation space. This example is from Montana State University.

    As a result we’re creating student-centric live-learn housing communities that provide more than just a room to sleep in. Acting like small neighborhoods rather than traditional dorm rooms, these communities allow open communication, spontaneous socializing and academic collaboration to collide.

    By blurring the line between living and learning, students are given a holistic educational experience where they connect learning across multiple contexts. They also feature a wide variety of resources, programs and activities that support the interests of their residents, keeping students engaged and committed to their academic achievement.

    This shift in student housing design couldn’t come at a better time for Bellevue College, which is embarking on its transition from a primarily commuter campus to a flourishing, multicultural residential college.

    “Bellevue College is eager to make the transition to a residential campus,” says Bellevue College President David Rule.

    “As the college has grown to meet the educational demands of the Eastside, affordable housing has been a clearly identified need. Building and offering residential life options will enhance BC’s students’ abilities to engage in their educational experience.”

    Purposeful design

    Photo by Frank Ooms [enlarge]
    Washington State University’s Northside Residence Hall has a student recreation lounge off the lobby.

    NAC Architecture’s student housing team has decades of experience creating these thriving, student-life communities for colleges and universities across the country, particularly those that are introducing student housing on campus for the first time.

    Lauren Scranton, our in-house director of educational research and development, leads our firm’s exploration into how we can holistically improve the student experience on campus and how that informs the architecture. Scranton is currently working with our design team and Bellevue College to help them develop the progressive live-learn campus community they desire.

    “Physical space plays a really important role in the retention and persistence of students, mostly because physical features have the power to encourage or limit behaviors,” Scranton says.

    “With the wealth of scholarship that points to the ‘residential impact’ on students’ social and emotional well-being and academic achievement, we must be intentional and purposeful in our design to create a space that enhances students’ college experience.

    “What this means is Bellevue College would be able to provide educationally purposeful programming in the residential halls that’s grounded in scholarship and sends a positive message of achievement. This might look like inviting faculty members to the residence hall to promote faculty mentorship, or bringing in tutors to increase access to instruction in basic study skills, or organizing a social program to build community.

    “Designing the space so that it encourages this kind of behavior, instead of limiting it, is our goal.”

    Creating community

    But how do you transition a campus that previously had no residential facilities to an active student neighborhood? These developments need to integrate with the existing campus in a way that connects residents to the academic core. By including features such as shared indoor and outdoor recreation space, dining services and study resources, these live-learn residences provide a welcoming campus amenity, encouraging students from all across campus to gather and socialize.

    Bellevue College commissioned a feasibility study that confirmed the need for on-campus student housing. Building off of the study, our team focused on the qualitative aspect of student housing, identifying the considerations that were most relevant to future residents.

    Photo by Ben Benschneider [enlarge]
    Shared common areas are important components of student housing. Students use this lounge at the University of Arizona to study and socialize.

    A good amount of time was spent on campus, conducting extensive interviews with students about what they were looking for in a campus residential community. Among the many things that were important to them, students were most excited about eliminating their commute from home to campus, the ease of access to academic resources outside of regular classroom hours, and the idea of being part of a student community that establishes a sense of belonging and provides an extensive support network.

    As we continue to collaborate with Bellevue College to develop their student residence, we are focused on providing opportunities for students to connect, share their cultures, and create their own sense of place. By working closely with college administrators, students and other stakeholders, this new residential development will focus on the needs of the global student population that Bellevue College serves.

    The result will be an inclusive student community, transforming the campus into a living, breathing 24/7 neighborhood that offers a sense of security, promotes the well-being and academic achievement of students, and offers a place where individuals can connect, thrive and grow.

    Ron van der Veen is a principal at NAC Architecture, with a career dedicated to higher education, student housing and sustainable design.

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