Indiana, PA - Indiana County

Town-gown meeting looks at housing, parking issues

by on August 09, 2013 11:00 AM

Fewer students than expected will be attending Indiana University of Pennsylvania this fall, President Michael Driscoll said Thursday.

Speaking during a community forum at the Jimmy Stewart Museum, Driscoll said the university has revised its enrollment projection downward and is now anticipating around 14,800 students. Officials previously had been projecting an enrollment of around 15,000.

Last fall, the university set an enrollment record with 15,379 students. Given that, the university is looking at nearly a 4 percent decline in the number of students, mostly attributable to a smaller freshman class.

Driscoll explained that the decline is due to a drop in the number of high school graduates in southwestern Pennsylvania, IUP’s core market. The drop, he said, reflects a decline in the region’s population.

Although IUP has the capacity for about 17,000 students, Driscoll said he expects that IUP’s enrollment will remain in the range of 14,000 to 15,000 in the years ahead.

Driscoll hosted the forum along with Indiana Borough Mayor George Hood. Jointly organized by the university and the borough, it was intended to give residents a venue to air concerns and ask questions of the local leaders. Roughly 40 people attended.

Attendees touched on a variety of topics, but the theme that emerged Thursday night related to community planning and student housing.

In the past year, a surge of new private housing developments has added significant capacity to the student rental market. Those developments seem to have altered market dynamics as students leave behind the older, converted single-family homes in favor of brand-new apartments and townhomes.

IUP professor and borough resident Faye Bradwick said that with less than a month to go before students return, she is seeing homes at the edge of campus remain unrented.

To help encourage families to purchase and move into those homes, many of which need hefty repairs, she suggested that officials create a loan pool from which homeowners could borrow to finance renovations.

Along those same lines, Betsy Lauber, a borough planning commissioner and director of the Foundation for IUP, asked Driscoll whether the university could provide some incentive to steer new hires into borough homes.

“I think it’s an intriguing idea,” Driscoll said, adding that it would be worth exploring.

Borough councilman Larry DeChurch asked if the university could somehow provide an incentive for students to live on campus.

It could, Driscoll responded, by changing residency requirements such that upperclassmen would be made to live on campus. Driscoll said it’s something the university has considered, but the fear is that it would discourage students from attending IUP.

He said its best housing, the Residential Revival suites, is full, and there are doubts about whether IUP’s traditional dormitories could outcompete the brand-new apartment-style developments.

In fact, he said IUP probably won’t replace McCarthy Hall and University Towers, which have reached the end of their usable lives and likely are to be demolished at some point in the future.

With the additional capacity is coming the need for additional parking, and borough councilman Gerald Smith expressed worries about homes being torn down to make way for parking lots. He asked if there was anything the university could do to discourage students from bringing their vehicles to school.

Driscoll said one way to accomplish that would be to charge exorbitant fees for parking permits, a direction the university could move toward.

“I think that we can turn those temperatures up over time,” Driscoll said.

The other way, he said, would be to make the campus a walking campus, pushing all parking and traffic to its fringes, which is prescribed in the university’s long-range planning.

But because that would affect students and residents alike, residents would have to accept that they could no longer cut across campus.

Driscoll said the university and the borough will get a taste of what that would be like through the closure of Grant Street from Pratt Drive to 11th Street. The road has been closed to allow for construction of a new academic building. It will remain closed until 2015, he said.

Also Thursday night, Driscoll said classes begin Aug, 26, and students will be moving in Aug. 22 to 25. The majority of students, he said, will be arriving Aug. 23 and 24.

Sam Kusic is a staff writer for The Indiana Gazette.
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