Residents of Kansas City’s Troostwood and Troost Plateau neighborhoods strolled along the edge of the Rockhurst University campus Tuesday, then visited a Forest Avenue town home built there this summer.
Up the walkway, between the newly landscaped lawn and onto the brick-lined porch, the residents entered one of eight town homes in two housing structures that this school year become home to Rockhurst students.
The town homes, constructed for $1.7 million and set in a row-house style on the north end of the campus, are the result of a fresh partnership formed between the university and residents of surrounding neighborhoods in an effort to create a more concentrated and efficient student community.
Before Rockhurst and its neighbors formed this alliance, there had been years of friction. Community residents were largely unhappy about the university buying up houses on their streets and renting them to students who opted to live off campus but were not the best neighbors.
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Within the last three years, the university noticed that many of the homes they own in surrounding neighborhoods needed costly repairs. And given their age — built in the 1920s and 1930s — the homes were energy-inefficient.
Rockhurst officials decided it might be a good time to sell them off to permanent residents. At the same time, the university saw “advantages to keeping students close together as opposed to having them scattered in housing throughout the community,” said Matt Heinrich, associate vice president of facilities and technology at Rockhurst.
Those factors set the stage for the town house construction.
In 2011, Rockhurst decided to stop acquiring neighborhood homes for student housing. A university-neighborhood council was tapped for input on the university’s master plan, which laid out guidelines for expanding student housing that would blend well with single-family homes around the school.
It took several years to build up trust between residents and the university.
“They were very open to listening to what the neighborhoods had to say,” said Belinda Blake, a resident. “Things really improved” since the late 1990s and early 2000s when “the problem was big,” Blake said. “That’s when they were buying up houses and telling us that eventually you will be in the path. … We are coming.”
With the town homes, residents had some say on nearly everything from the exterior color to lighting around the buildings. They agreed on such things as building porches large enough for the student residents to enjoy, “but not big enough for 20 kids to hang out and party on all night,” Blake said.
Each four-bedroom unit is 1,600 square feet, with a living or dining room area, a full kitchen with dishwasher separated by a bar equipped with four stools. Every unit has a washer and dryer.
Above the kitchen are two bedrooms, each with sinks. The rooms are separated by a shared bathroom. Below the kitchen is a similar setup.
With eight town homes, there’s space for 32 students, bringing the total beds in on-campus housing to 931, including 24 in rehabilitated houses on the south side of the campus.
Cameras surround the new town home buildings, and the homes are equipped with a security system, panic buttons, Google Fiber with Wi-Fi and a parking space for each resident.
At $8,200 a year per resident, the cost to live in these new units is on the high end among the university’s housing choices. For example, the new residences are more than $200 above the cost for one of the most expensive units in the University Townhouse Village built at 52nd Street and the Paseo about 20 years ago.
“The amenities in this new space are much higher than any other space we have,” said Mark Hetzler, associate dean of students. “I think it is a good mix, a nice blend of living in the community and being on campus”
The next step, Hetzler said, is to see how students like them.
To live in the new town homes, a student must be an upperclassman and meet certain criteria. The university uses a formula that considers a student’s GPA, community service and behavior status on campus to select who gets in. All the units are filled for the coming fall and spring semesters with no waiting list.
Residents of the two neighborhoods said they are pleased with the look of the new town houses.
“Our hope from the neighborhood perspective is that students will find Rockhurst housing more attractive than renting a house in the community,” said resident Wanda Taylor. The university has the same hope.
“It has taken a long time for us to get here,” Alicia Douglas, Rockhurst director of community relations and outreach, told people touring the new town house units. “This is that example of giving the conversation the time it needs,” she said.