How to reconfigure residence halls for the COVID-era

Administrators may look to lease hotels or apartment complexes to add additional housing
By: | June 19, 2020
(GettyImages.com/Phynart Studio)

Student satisfaction, safety and revenue all play roles in how campus plan to provide on-campus housing residence halls under the specter of the coronavirus outbreak continuing into and beyond the fall 2020 semester.

Social distancing will almost certainly require reduced density in residence halls where single or double rooms cannot be provided while lounges and other common areas may be restricted or closed altogether.

“Most students want to get back to campus,” says Peter Brohoski, who leads public sector advisory services for realty company Cushman & Wakefield, which has just released guidance on reopening residence halls with the program management firm, Brailsford & Dunlavey.

“There will be a whole set of new policies about what’s off-limits and what’s OK, about cleaning up after yourself, whether or not you can have visitors, how to report your wellness and quarantining if you’re not feeling well,” Brohoski says.


More from UB: 6 snapshots of how colleges and universities plan to reopen safely


Some colleges and universities intend to reduce residence hall capacity by 50%, which means eliminating triple- and quad-occupancy rooms, and identifying overflow options.

American University in Washington, D.C., for example, will offer single-rooms to first-year students and some sophomores and help juniors and seniors locate housing off-campus.

Residence hall suites designed for four students would likely house only two after reconfigurations for social distancing.

Residence hall suites designed for four students would likely house only two after reconfigurations for social distancing.

Brohoski says housing administrators may look to lease hotels or apartment complexes, but geography may post other problems.

“At small colleges, you might not have the property around that can be utilized—there might be only one or two motels in town,” he says. “A lot of colleges and universities are struggling with how to break through some of these quandaries.”

New normal inside residence halls

When the semester begins, administrators will have set schedules for when students can move in to ensure that safe social distancing can be maintained throughout the process.

As for life in the residence halls, administrators may have to close common rooms temporarily and even create schedules for when students can use shared bathrooms, Brohoski says.


More from UB: Colleges see record enrollment during COVID summer


“No one has the best answer for roommate situations,” Brohoski says. “But it will require removing furniture, fewer touchpoints,  hand cleanser and disinfectant wipes—everything you can possibly do to reduce the chance of germs and contamination.”

In a single-occupancy, 4-person apartment, bathrooms to could be assigned to specific bedrooms to limit number of users per space.

In a single-occupancy, 4-person apartment, bathrooms to could be assigned to specific bedrooms to limit number of users per space.

Administrators also are considering designating up to 5% of beds to quarantine students who contract COVID-19.

This school year’s housing constraint may have longer-term impacts, Brohoski says.

“Given lack of revenue created fro housing, retail and other services, administrators will have to get more creative in terms of creating rev through other sources and being more judicious with budgets,” Brohoski says.

Read the full report here


UB’s coronavirus page offers complete coverage of the impacts on higher ed.