At Bloomfield College, living in student housing has often meant commuting to campus.
At least it did in past years, when hundreds of students were placed in apartments in Newark or a hotel on Route 3, college President Richard Levao said. And for international students, Bloomfield “had a variety of makeshift solutions.”
Administrators couldn’t help but wonder if they could do things differently.
“We found that we were not only giving students’ room money to third parties — namely, hotels and the (building) in Newark — but also the cost of shuttle buses was significant,” Levao said. “And we weren’t getting any real long-term benefit because the resources were going to pay rent, essentially, rather than retire the debt on an asset, which would have been a residence hall.”
But as students return to Bloomfield for the fall semester, officials are now happy to be able to meet that demand on campus. Last week, the college opened its new 234-bed, $27 million residence hall, the largest construction project in the history of 146-year-old institution.
The four-story triangular building sits on the corner of Broad and Franklin streets, helping activate a swath of downtown Bloomfield amid several other development projects around the town. It also allows the 2,100-student college to nearly double its on-campus resident population and offers new amenities for the school as a whole.
That 80,434-square-foot space includes a new Barnes & Noble campus bookstore that’s open to the public, according to college officials. For students, it also offers features such as lounge areas on each floor, a multipurpose space and a fitness center.
“Even the kids who always seemed unimpressed with everything are knocked out by it,” Levao said. “They just think it’s terrific. It’s the kind of facility that this college has never really had before.”
The project is a long time coming for Bloomfield. Levao said the college acquired the parcel several years ago, but “decided we would hold onto it for a while until we could put a financial plan together to construct a residence hall.”
So once the college found financing — the project was financed by a tax-exempt bank loan by The Provident Bank — and a good partner in Torcon Construction, Bloomfield was on its way.
“To me, the future of the college is better served, and students have a greater chance to get a true intellectual environment, including students who are commuter students,” Levao said. “And you can start doing the kind of programming and energetic activities that make a campus come alive. It’s hard to do with a campus that is overwhelmingly commuter.”
Levao also called the project “a great way for a college like Bloomfield in a small town like Bloomfield Township to be a creative partner in redeveloping the downtown.” The Essex County township has construction pipeline that’s stronger and more active than it’s been in decades, including a mixed-use redevelopment plan near the Lackawanna Plaza train station and other residential projects.
Last month, township officials marked the start of construction for 82 units of age-restricted housing. The project, known as Heritage Village, is being developed by Community Investment Strategies.
And Prism Capital Partners earlier this year opened Parkway Lofts, a 361-unit multifamily complex. The property with industrial, loft-style units was created by rehabilitating and converting the historic General Electric Co. building.
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