Finding Room for Students
Stetson University senior Lynn Walsh and her friends wanted to live off-campus this year, but they were surprised to learn how expensive it would be.
Instead, the three women signed up for a two-bedroom apartment in Stetson Oaks, purchased by Stetson earlier this year and renovated over the summer.
“We actually tried to find housing (off-campus). We thought it would be cheaper,” said Walsh, who’s lived on campus every year at Stetson. “But it would have been more than on-campus housing.”
The demand for Stetson housing is high, given that undergraduate enrollment has grown on the DeLand campus from 2,100 students to 3,000 in recent years.
The university added about 150 beds over the summer, and renovated several newly acquired apartment complexes. That allowed the university to meet the demand for on-campus housing this fall – for the first time in four years – without having to put any students temporarily in hotels, said Al Allen, associate vice president for Facilities Management.
Housing all students on campus was an important goal for Stetson officials, said Larry Correll-Hughes, Ph.D., executive director of Stetson’s Housing and Residential Life.
“The university has for a long time valued the residential experience because we see that as an integral part of the learning environment,” he said. “We had worked toward housing all of our students on-campus and some of these properties presented an opportunity for us to meet the housing demand but also expand the housing options for students.”
New Housing Options
Stetson has purchased several apartment complexes in recent years, as well as a hotel, located just a short walk from the center of campus and expanded the campus footprint on the north and west sides. A few of the apartment complexes once were used by Stetson students, but had fallen into disrepair, Correll-Hughes said.
The university also converted three houses, once rented to faculty and staff, into student housing with a purpose, called Community Catalyst Houses, such as for Sustaining Green Living or Intersections of Faith.
With those additions, the total number of students housed on campus has grown to 2,041.
Stetson purchased the University Inn and converted it into University Hall four years ago. Last summer, workers upgraded the heating and air-conditioning system, renovated bathrooms, ripped out the carpet and upgraded the flooring, and made other improvements. The hall allows pets and can house 120 students.
The university also purchased Stetson Cove, an apartment complex at 315 W. Pennsylvania Ave., five years ago. The complex once was a magnet for crime and logged 284 calls for service to the DeLand Police Department in the year before Stetson purchased it. In the four years since, police have received just eight calls, Correll-Hughes said.
This year at Stetson Cove, the one-bedroom apartments now house two students each, increasing the complex’s occupancy from 70 to 80 students.
Last year, the university bought Colonial Oaks and Stetson House, two older apartment complexes just a short walk north of the center of campus on Stetson Street, and renovated them last summer, primarily for upper-division students.
Colonial Oaks at Amelia Avenue and Stetson Street was renamed Stetson Oaks, and provides housing for 72 students. “We gutted it,” Correll-Hughes said. “It had become very rundown.”
The same with Stetson House, which was renamed Stetson Palms on East Stetson Street, with room for 33 students. “It was so dilapidated that it didn’t attract students,” he added.
At both complexes, the university renovated bathrooms, added new kitchens, new tile, heating and air-conditioning systems, roofs, paint, security cameras, landscaping and more. Allen and his team oversaw the renovation and transformation of the properties.
“It’s unrecognizable when you walk in,” Correll-Hughes added about the Stetson Oaks and Stetson Palms apartments, which can accommodate two, three or four students, depending on the configuration of the apartments.
A Strategic Decision
Buying up nearby apartment complexes and the hotel was a strategic decision by Stetson’s Chief Financial Officer and Executive Vice President of Finance Bob Huth.
“Rather than build a new residence hall in the middle of campus and, if in twenty years the market for higher education changes, we would have a sunk asset,” Correll-Hughes explained. “But with University Hall, Stetson Cove and the others, we could sell them if we needed to. It’s a very strategic decision. It makes sense for a place like Stetson.”
The university also signed a long-term lease for the Plymouth Apartments, at Amelia and Plymouth avenues, which houses 25 upper-class students in one-bedroom apartments.
Lastly, Stetson converted four houses into Community Catalyst Houses – a new idea for this year — providing residential living for groups of three to six students with a purpose: Sustaining Green Living, Intersections of Faith, Futures in Health Care, and World Kitchen.
“It’s a living-learning initiative, a high impact practice,” he said. “Students propose a theme or topic and students apply to live there. They have to develop a project over the year to impact Stetson or DeLand, have a service commitment and a faculty advisor.
“We call them Community Catalyst Houses. The idea being they’re a catalyst to start something in the community. It will be exciting to see what the students do with that over time.”