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Planned renovation of Villa Maria building will bring back on-campus housing for the first time in 10 years

PHOTO COURTESY OF MARYLHURST UNIVERSITY - The Villa Maria building (left) was built in the 1960s as a home for Marylhurst University faculty. It sits next to the Belluschi Pavilion (right), the latest addition to the school's campus.Marylhurst University has announced plans to bring back on-campus housing options for students, beginning with the 2018-2019 school year. The campus has had no student housing for more than a decade.

"As Marylhurst continues to grow student enrollment and expand programs to meet both student demand and business and workforce needs, we're thrilled the campus will once again offer housing to many students," said Scott Bolton, chair of the university's board of trustees and senior vice president for external affairs and customer solutions at PacificCorp.

Starting in January, the university's Villa Maria building will undergo a $2 million, seven-month renovation project to restore its 49 dorm rooms. The project will include exterior maintenence such as replacing gutters and improving drainage, as well as interior improvements.

"Primarily, we are converting or improving several of the bathrooms, laundry facilities and kitchenette spaces so they're more modern, up to date and ADA compliant," said Jennifer Chambers, Marylhurst's vice president of finance and administration. "The rest is around cleaning up each individual room, since they haven't been occupied in a while — new carpets, new paint and of course new furninture."

The housing is primarily intended for low-residency graduate students, who complete most of their coursework online but visit the campus for short periods. The university is in the midst of a push to expand its roster of graduate programs.

PHOTO COURTESY OF MARYLHURST UNIVERSITY - The Villa Maria dorms were used by full-time Marylhurst students during the 1990s but have been empty for 10 years. After a planned renovation, they will serve graduate students during on-campus stays."These students come to the area twice a year, but we don't have any place for them to stay," said Karen Pederson, Marylhurst's communications and content manager. "Rolling out more low-residency programs gives us a greater need to have actual housing on campus, which is a much better experience for students."

The residence hall may also end up serving other students taking courses on the campus, Pederson said, including undergraduate students and international students. She said the specific uses will be determined by the needs of incoming students in future years.

"We aren't ruling out other students going to Marylhurst living there, either year-round or just for a short time while looking for off-campus housing," she said. "Those are some questions that we haven't answered yet because we don't know yet what our next influx of students are going to want."

Villa Maria was constructed in 1965 and 1966. It originally housed members of the Sisters of the Holy Names who were part of the Marylhurst University faculty. But the sisters stopped living in Villa Maria in the early 1990s, Pederson said, and the building was subsequently renovated and used as housing for students in the university's former Early Scholars program.

"That program was really geared toward the traditional liberal arts full-time student, living on campus and going to classes," she said. "It lasted about six years, and then the housing was mostly used by international students, who would stay for a short time as they were looking for off-campus housing."

PHOTO COURTESY OF MARYLHURST UNIVERSITY - The ground floor of Villa Maria, which has remained in use as a meeting and event space, will continue to serve in that role.The rooms have been unoccupied since at least 2007, although the main floor of the building has remained in use as an events space. Pederson said the dorms initially stopped being used because of fluctuations in enrollment and a lack of demand for student housing.

"The Early Scholars program that we had in the 1990s had quite a few students enrolled, but not as many wanted to do the full live-on-campus experience," she said. "A lot of them were in the Portland area and continued to live at home with their parents."

The return of on-campus housing is described as being part of the university's "new strategic vision," which includes an increased focus on low-residency graduate options. The expansion of those programs will create more demand for housing, Pederson says.

"Reopening Villa Maria speaks to our commitment to academic excellence," said Marylhurst President Melody Rose, "and to fully activating our campus as a hub for cultural events and professional development opportunities, featuring numerous events and workshops with artists, authors, business leaders and scholars."

When the dorms are not in use by students, they will be available to organizations for retreats and conferences, school officials said.

"Being close to downtown and easily accessible from all over Portland and the surrounding counties, we often receive requests from conferences and groups looking for this type of space," said Christina Laird, events manager at Marylhurst University. "We're excited to be able to meet the needs of organizations and community groups when students aren't using Villa Maria."

The change comes amidst a period of rapid growth in the area, with construction underway on a large-scale expansion of the next-door Mary's Woods community. Five new buildings are being added, featuring both residential and commercial space.

Contact Lake Oswego Review reporter Anthony Macuk at 503-636-1281 ext. 108 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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