College, city look at housing options

FAIRMONT – Presentation College in Fairmont is growing every year, but to push those numbers along even further, the school could use some help with student housing.

On Monday, campus director Traci Lardy met with the local Housing and Redevelopment Authority to discuss options. The HRA called for the meeting after reviewing a housing study of Fairmont that recommended the city look into building student housing.

“We continue to increase every semester by a few students, and our retention rate is almost unheard of at 80 to 90 percent,” Lardy said.

This semester, there are 145 students attending the Fairmont campus. Many are from the Fairmont area, but each year more are coming from outside a 50-mile radius. Regardless of where students originally hail from, the majority are looking for a place to stay, according to Lardy.

“We do have housing issues,” she said.

Part of the problem with developing new housing is the cost, when compared to what students are willing and able to pay. The typical rent for a room near campus is $300, with nothing included, Lardy reported.

More expensive than that and it’s difficult to sell to college students in Fairmont. One landlord fixed up a home, furnishing it so nicely Lardy joked she would like to move in there. But he’s had a hard time finding student tenants willing to pay $500 per room, even with utilities included.

City administrator Mike Humpal quoted an estimate he got for a new development: $900 to $1,000 per room.

“Any developer, and us too if we were to build it, we’d want to be able to rent it out. We’d need a guarantee you could fill it 80 percent, or something like that,” said Ron Kopischke, HRA chairman.

That’s a conversation that would have to include administration from Presentation College’s main campus, in Aberdeen, S.D.

And then there’s the issue of where the student housing could be built.

“Location, that’s the thing,” Humpal said. “Trying to find a location within a reasonable distance is the next target.”

Demolition of existing buildings would be required. Humpal said one developer was interested in several properties a block from Presentation but could not get cooperation from the various parties needed to make the project happen.

One option might be to tear down the old “iron grill” site, on the last block of Downtown Plaza. The building is an eyesore to the neighborhood, and there’s a neighboring lot that could allow for further expansion in the future.