Late Friday afternoon, state Sen. Mike McGuire looked out at a crowd of Santa Rosa Junior College leaders, students and a host of local elected officials.
“This is one of the best days on campus in years,” said McGuire, D-Healdsburg, standing in front of a construction site at the corner of Elliot Avenue and Armory Drive.
Beside him, several golden shovels stuck upright in sand finally signaled the start of building the largest student housing development in the college’s 103-year history.
The five-story, 352-bed residence hall costing over $60 million is more than three years in the making, said Pedro Avila, vice president of student services. After delaying the construction timeline due to pandemic-related effects on financing, it should be ready for students in fall 2023.
College officials began to discuss developing student housing in 2017, Avila said, then started pursuing the project in earnest a year later. Students struggled to find places to live they could afford, in the wake of the October 2017 North Bay firestorm. The blazes destroyed 5,300 homes across the county, including 5% of housing in Santa Rosa. Subsequent fires have wiped out more homes.
Provision of affordable housing is seen as a way to curtail flagging enrollment, which has trended downward since 2009.
“We’re breaking ground to build housing of equity,” said Delashay Carmona Benson, president of the student body and member of the student workforce housing group, which has met every month for the past few years to help shepherd the project.
Carmona Benson said one of the things she pushed for was extra security measures at the residence hall. Now, she is urging the college to offer a meal plan for student residents.
Avila said students who are experiencing homelessness and those in foster care or lower income households will get priority for placement in the student housing.
The cost of the project has sharply increased since December 2020, when SRJC leaders pegged it at $46.5 million. The current estimate for costs including construction, financing and permits has reached $64 million.
The student housing project is funded by a public-private partnership, in which the builder pays for development and construction costs and then collects rents for the next 40 years to recoup its costs and make a profit. The college is still actively seeking other donors to support the project.
Texas-based firm Servitas, which specializes in student housing development, is managing the project. Weitz, based in Des Moines, Iowa, is the contractor.
Students will be able to choose from a few room options among the 258 units. Those in single or double rooms will share bathrooms with the rest of the floor, while those in the single semi-suite with two single bedrooms or the four-bedroom apartments will have private bathrooms.
Rent will include use of common laundry machines and utilities. Each room will be furnished with a bed, desk and chair, a chest of drawers and a closet.
Avila said the workforce housing group has kept housing affordability for students at the heart of the project.
“If you ever had to sleep in the street, in a shelter, in your car or if you had to bounce around from home to home, because there was no place to call home, this project is dedicated to you,” he said.