Colleges and universities are constantly looking for new revenue streams. Plymouth State University in New Hampshire is taking the hospitality route: Its newest residence hall, the 96,000-sf Merrill Place with 345 beds, will convert to a 188-key hotel during summer months.
The new residence hall, which opened last August, includes a 4,300-sf conference center that has been consistently booked, to the point where Perkins + Will, the architect on this $33 million project, has had difficulty scheduling time to photograph the building, says Yanel de Angel, AIA, LEED AP BD+C, CPHC, an Associate Principal at the firm’s Boston office.
The seven-story Merrill Place’s main purpose is to provide campus housing for this public university, which over the past few years has seen a spike in its admissions. (It currently has just under 4,200 undergraduate and 2,100 graduate students. With the opening of Merrill Place, PSU can offer housing to 60% of its undergrads.)
By doubling as a hotel with a conference center, the new building fills a void for Plymouth, N.H., which de Angel points out had just one event facility with a capacity of 330 people, and only a handful of hotels. The college is situated near the Appalachian Trail, “and offers fantastic hiking, rock climbing, and cycling opportunities.”
Merrill Place's 4,300-sf conference center can accommodate nearly 300 people for dinners and other events, and around 500 for lectures. Image: (c) Anton Grassl
Other colleges and universities have conference centers, of course. But what’s unique about Plymouth State’s, says de Angel, is that it’s being marketed as separate from the college, and has its own entrance at Merrill Place. The conference center can accommodate 276 seated attendees and 827 standing attendees. (The university’s 68,000-sf Field House, which opened in 2016, can also host conferences.)
There are two room sizes in the residence hall: 10 by 18 feet (including bathroom and corridor) and 11.6 by 18 feet. Some of the smaller student rooms are currently single-occupancy. The two twin beds in the double-occupancy bedrooms will be pushed together and rented as a single King bed for the hotel space. (The furniture supplier is DCI Furniture, based in Lisbon, N.H.) De Angel says the reception and concierge stations for the hotel have been built into the residence hall.
The student rooms will be rented as hotel rooms with King-sized beds. Image (c) Anton Grassl
Reception and concierge areas are already built into Merrill Place. Image: (c) Anton Grassl
Along with P+W, the Building Team on this project included Engelberth Construction (GC), Odeh (SE), Longchamps Electric (EE), RFS Engineering (MEP/FP), and Studio 2112 (landscape architect).
Due to recent administrative personnel changes, PSU has been slow to start marketing Merrill Place as a summer season hotel, although de Angel says the school has started putting together its advertising for that purpose, which will include offering rental of hotel rooms and the conference center as a package.
“Aligning program and aesthetics with a revenue-generating model is increasingly critical to today’s budget-conscious colleges and universities,” says de Angel. “The students here have embraced this whole idea about a residence hall with a hospitality layer. And we came away thinking that we might be able to take a little bit of risk with our designs in the future.”