Arts college uses creative financing to build 493-bed student housing

Many states have cut back funding for higher education in recent years, and securing money for new housing has been tougher than ever for many colleges and universities.

November 07, 2014 |
The exterior design of the 21-story, LEED Silver MassArt Tree House was sugges

Many states have cut back funding for higher education in recent years, and securing money for new housing has been tougher than ever for many colleges and universities. A recent residence hall project in Boston involving three colleges provides an inspiring example of how necessity can spawn invention in financing strategies.

Massachusetts College of Art and Design, a state school, partnered with its neighbors Wentworth Institute of Technology and Massachusetts College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences (now MCPHS University, and known locally as Mass Pharma), both private institutions, to construct its Tree House residence hall. Making the deal pencil out required some deft real estate maneuvers.

First, Wentworth transferred a parking lot to MassArt to allow the site to be expanded. Next, Wentworth and MCPHS University contributed $700,000 toward the cost of building out a student health center that all three schools now share. Then MCPHS agreed to sublease a substantial number of the building’s 17 residence floors to house its students, which helped to defray MassArt’s costs. The last step saw Mass-Art secure state funding to complete the financing for the $54 million project.

“The project wouldn’t have happened without the participation of Wentworth and Mass Pharma,” says Kurt Steinberg, who was appointed Acting President of MassArt in August. The 21-story, 145,600-sf structure is located amid pricey real estate near renowned museums and the Longwood Medical District. Boston’s construction costs are among the nation’s highest. 

 



© Chuck Choi

 

Steinberg says the college didn’t want Tree House to upend the pricing structure of MassArt’s campus housing. “Our goal was to not have the new beds be more expensive than the beds in our other two residence halls,” he says. Mass Pharma leases 260 of the 493 beds; a portion of the rent—$1,000 per bed—goes toward housing scholarships for MassArt students. 

The 20-year lease gives MassArt the option to take over the space now occupied by MCPHS University after 10 or 15 years. Should MassArt exercise that option, its on-campus housing would be able to accommodate about 44% of its students, mostly freshmen and sophomores, doubling its total housing capacity.

Designed by ADD, Inc., the Tree House was inspired by Gustav Klimt’s “Tree of Life.” The 280-foot-tall structure stands as proof that three institutions can combine forces to build a facility that fulfills the needs of all parties.

 



© Lucy Chen

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