Highlands History: The past, present and future of Edinboro housing

Tuesday, May 3rd, 2016 at 10:45 PM
Highlands History: The past, present and future of Edinboro housing by Tracy Geibel

Can you imagine living in the basement of Reeder Hall? In a room with exposed pipes overhead, two double bunk beds on one side and desks along the opposite wall?

That’s where Edinboro alum, Albert Eaton, lived during his sophomore year. The following year his room was converted into a lounge with TVs. “That was when TVs were first coming to the forefront,” he said. “So the second year, I stayed up on the second floor.” Eaton graduated in 1955, over 60 years ago.

Since then, the on-campus housing options have drastically changed. The Highland buildings, which nearly 2,000 students call home, were built in two phases: 1 through 4 and 5 through 8. Students were able to move into the first few in January 2009 and into the second grouping in 2011. “If you’ve ever looked at the Highlands and wondered who was high when they numbered them, it’s because the first four were built in a cluster, and then they had to find the land [for the others],” Director of Residence Life and Housing Amy Franklin-Kraft said.

While many of the current university administration, the recent president and others, were not at the university or in the position they are today, Jeff Hileman, the university’s communications director, said that the Highlands were built to be competitive. “The leadership at the time saw the need and the opportunity,” Hileman said. “That housing style is [still] in demand, and it’s appealing to students.”

“At that time, it was seen as a real drawing card… but it’s almost become what’s expected,” he continued. “Almost everyone has it, and if they don’t have it now, they are rolling them out. It was a trend, but now it’s an expectation.”

They directly replaced two older residential buildings that Hileman said “were nearing the end of their life.” Built a few years before 1970, Shafer and Scranton Hall each held about 400 students each. Shafer, which was located where the first group of Highlands was built, was torn down around 2007. Scranton was torn down a little over a year later. Shafer and Scranton, both named for former Pennsylvania governors, offered traditional housing options with two people in each room and community bathrooms down each hallway. At the time when they were demolished, other buildings continued to offer traditional housing.

In 2008, Edinboro University entered a cooperation agreement with the Edinboro University Foundation in order to finance the construction of the Highlands. The foundation also designed and furnished them.

“Edinboro University Foundation exists to support Edinboro University,” the Foundation’s website says. “This support includes acquiring, constructing, or otherwise providing buildings, grounds or other suitable facilities, improvements or equipment on the campus of the University for the use or benefit of students of the University.”

The Foundation had incurred nearly $117 million of debt to pay for the Highlands. Approximately, $113,270,000 was outstanding as of Jan. 1. This debt is paid off with student housing charges and other housing revenues.

Hileman explained why the university decided to enter the agreement. “Basically, the foundation provided a service for the university at a time when the university wasn’t able to build these facilities that were needed,” he said. However, the debt made the university reconsider. It worked along with the foundation to make a decision. In order to control prices of student housing in the future, the Council of Trustees signed for the Highlands to be transferred to Edinboro University on March 16. “The foundation and the university have determined that the best option for reducing the debt service associated with the project is to transfer the Highlands Student Housing Facility from the foundation to the university,” the resolution read.

“We want to require students to live on campus for the four semesters, but on the other hand, it needs to be cheap enough for them to be able to finance their way through college,” Franklin-Kraft said. “At some point, you start supplanting the benefits associated with living on campus with the worry students have about their ability to finance things.”

She continued, “It’s not about our relationship with the foundation. It’s just that it’s a lot of money [owed] right now…If they had built Highlands 1 through 4 and stopped, it might not have been an issue.” At the time, however, Hileman and Franklin-Kraft both said there seemed to be no reason to stop the construction of the Highlands. When asked if there were any regrets regarding the Highlands, Hileman had no comment. He did say, however, that at the time, the Highlands seemed like an “opportunity.”

“It seems as if individuals had information…that while the number of seniors graduating was going to dissipate for a number of years, it would then start to pick up,” Franklin Kraft said. “Newer numbers have shown us that’s not the case.”

Rose Hall, currently being remodeled, will likely be the only traditional residence hall beginning in the fall 2016 semester. Earp Hall, named after John K. Earp, a board of trustees member from the 1930s to 1950s, will close at the end of the spring 2016 semester (see Editor’s Note in “The Partial Closure of Earp”). Honors students living there will, as of now, relocate to Rose.

A few years ago, Dearborn Hall also housed students, though it also housed students for a short time during the spring 2015 semester after a pipe burst in Highlands 8. It is now where Piper Press is located, and soon, faculty who now have offices in Centennial Hall will relocate there. Dearborn was named after a 1912 graduate. Lawrence Towers was built in the 1970s. Since it is no longer used, it has provided occasional temporary housing. Just recently, some campus resources began using the first floor.

Centennial Hall was finished in 1960. Less than 60 years later, it’s been approved for demolition. The exact date hasn’t been decided yet. “It would take a rebuild of Centennial, and it’s not really suited… for anything but a residence hall,” Hileman said, “and [it’s] the type of residence hall that is not very appealing to students.” In the 1990s, it was temporarily used as office space. It was also used for classes a few times. At one point students lived in one wing while faculty offices were in the other.

However, when sprinklers became a PASSHE requirement for all student dormitories, Centennial and Reeder weren’t even considered for the upgrade. It was too costly. It remained as a residence hall until 2004. Reeder Hall, where Eaton — the alum who graduated over 60 years ago — lived, is now the university president’s office. “It had been empty for a while and was a renovation,” Hileman said. “A couple rooms up there are clearly former residence halls, but you can’t tell on the first floor with the president’s office.”

The women’s dorms were Haven Hall and another. Haven Hall also served as the cafeteria.

Eaton said that other male students lived for at least one year in another men’s dormitory near Reeder. Eaton couldn’t recall what it was named, but it was converted from a gym. There were dividers as walls and no doors. He actually had to spend his first year at college off campus because there were too few dorms on-campus. That’s not exactly a problem anymore. He suspects the overflow was the reason the gym was transformed into a dorm.

“Can’t you imagine a gym floor with a large number of rooms and a center hall with all just partitions about 6 feet high and no door?” Eaton said. “That’s kind of primitive. I’m glad I wasn’t there.”

Tracy Geibel is the Executive Editor for The Spectator. She can be reached at edinboro.spectator@gmail.com.

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