Taking a planning cue from Sacramento and other riverfront cities, Sacramento State is building new dorms and amenities overlooking the American River, which flows past the campus but has long seemed like a design afterthought.
The biggest piece of that riverfront development is a 416-bed residence hall, scheduled to open in 2017, that will peer over the river and provide easy access to popular bike paths atop the levees. California State University trustees approved the $54.9 million project last week.
It marks the beginning of a major campus overhaul that takes advantage of the university’s proximity to the American River, said Mike Lee, chief financial officer of CSU Sacramento.
“In the past, we put parking lots next to the river,” he said. “The campus is going to look at options to have better access to the river and better use of the bike trail.”
A new science building with views of the water will be constructed on another parking lot north of the student bookstore when funding becomes available, he said.
New student housing has been an integral part of President Alexander Gonzalez’s Destination 2010 plan, designed to transform Sacramento State’s image from that of a commuter college to a more residential campus.
The school’s private nonprofit affiliate, University Enterprises Inc., established off-campus lofts in 2007 at 65th Street and Folsom Boulevard within walking distance of the campus, an attempt to create a college-town environment.
In 2009, the school built American River Courtyard. That residence area geared toward upper-division and transfer students features four-bedroom, two-bathroom apartments with kitchens and living rooms. Despite its name, it does not sit adjacent to the river the way the new dorms will.
“Historically, our structures haven’t necessarily capitalized on this beautiful river running alongside our campus,” said Beth Lesen, associate vice president of student affairs. “I can’t imagine why we wouldn’t want to capitalize on that.”
Millennial students are looking for amenities when they decide where to attend, said Mike McKeever, CEO of the Sacramento Area Council of Governments. He said this generation of students wants a more active urban environment.
“From a planning sense, they are making their college experience more attractive to students,” McKeever said of Sacramento State leaders.
The newly approved dorm and the six existing residence halls, including American River Courtyard, have together been rebranded the North Housing Village. The village is home to 1,700 of the school’s 27,700 students, according to campus officials. The newly approved dorm, set to open in 2017, would bring that number to about 2,100.
Apartments for faculty, staff and graduate students will eventually be built in what will be called the South Housing Village.
“The long-term plan is to try to create more on-campus housing opportunities for students,” Lee said. That could mean building on-campus property or acquiring land.
The master plan calls for a total of eight new housing complexes and the renovation of seven aging buildings, including several academic halls and the library, over 20 years. It also includes five new facilities such as a performing-arts building, academic hall, offices and a building that will house academic and student services.
The university plans to expand the existing University Union and The Well fitness center, as well as more facilities for intramural sports.
“An open campus and additional housing, and certainly getting access to the river is adding amenities to an already beautiful campus,” McKeever said. “They went through a whole era of walling themselves off to the whole community.”
The four-story residence hall approved last week will be home to 252 freshmen – two to a room – and 164 sophomores, who will bunk alone. The freshmen and sophomore wings each will have shared living areas.
The student community will have an interior courtyard, rooftop terrace, multipurpose room with communal kitchen, as well as a classroom, computer lab, laundry facilities, fitness center and administrative offices, according to university plans. The new dorm also will have apartments for faculty and staff.
Unlike other nearby dorms, all the communal living areas in the new residence hall will have large windows with unobstructed views of the river.
The building will address the need for freshmen and sophomore housing, said Michael Speros, the university’s director of housing and residential life. He said the school needs more housing for those younger students because they are more likely to live on campus and because the last housing facility built at the campus – American River Courtyard – accommodates only juniors and seniors.
The 126,000-square-foot residence hall will displace about 100 parking spaces once construction begins, Lee said. Campus officials plan to put a temporary parking lot on university property south of the campus. Students who use that lot will be offered discounted parking passes and shuttles to the university, Lee said.
“In the long run, there is a need for a parking structure on the north end of the campus,” he said.
Students posting on the university’s Facebook page expressed concern that the new residence hall would add to their tuition. Some asked whether the university should first update aging facilities lacking technology.
University officials said no student tuition or general fees will be used for the project. The dorm will be funded through housing fees charged to students who live on campus. The housing fund is separate from the general operating fund.
Students pay between $10,000 to $12,500 annually to live on campus, depending on the room configuration and meal plan they select, according to university documents. Students can stay in single or double rooms or share studios, apartments and suites.
Call The Bee’s Diana Lambert, (916) 321-1090. Follow her on Twitter @dianalambert.