Officials at George Mason University have agreed to a one-year contract with a local builder to rent a new $2.5 million condominium complex in Fairfax City that will provide needed additional student housing.
Last year the university was hit with a serious housing shortage and forced to place more than 100 incoming students in temporary rooms at a nearby motel. The university must get state approval before it completes the lease agreement.
The new condominums, opposite Commonwealth Hospital on Rte. 123, are about a quarter-mile from the campus. The complex consists of three units that contain 12 town house-style apartments in each building. A university-employed resident manager will live in one of the apartments.
Donald J. Mash, university vice president for student affairs, said he expects enrollment to rise from last year's 15,500 to 16,000 next fall. He said builder W. Rembert Simpson's offer to rent the apartments to the school became attractive when the university determined that the student increase might trigger another housing crunch in September.
Simpson said he originally planned to sell his condominiums to parents of George Mason University students. The idea, he said, was for the parents to sell the apartments to other incoming students' parents when their child graduated from school.
But, Simpson said he worried that the parents would sell the units to people outside the university system.
"The parents who sold the apartments to outsiders would dilute the housing market further for George Mason," Simpson said. "The idea to lease the apartments for one year seemed to be much to the school's advantage."
Students opting to live in the spacious two-bedroom, two-bathroom apartments will be facing a fairly expensive yearly rental rate.
Mash said students will pay $2,900 to live in the fully furnished units for one academic year. The university charges $2,400 a year for housing in campus dormitories and the Patriot Village mobile home residence, which includes three meals a day on the school's meal service plan.
Students in Simpson's Commonwealth Park complex, as it is tentatively called, can either pay an additional $1,500 to sign up for the university food plan or cook their own meals in the apartments' large kitchens.
"We tried to price the facilities according to what we think they're worth on the market," Mash said. "We don't get any money from the state for housing support, and we had to charge rents that enable us to pay off our mortgage and run them."
Mash said it cost the university an extra $15 a day per student last year to house 146 students in the Fairfax City Quality Inn for a few weeks. "We had two to three students in a room . . . . We did it because we had to . . . ," Mash said.
Simpson said he expects all three buildings to be finished and ready for occupancy by July.
The local independent builder said he created the condominium concept because of George Mason University's chronic housing shortage.
"I'm a strong supporter of George Mason and Fairfax City, where I've lived for years. I would like to see Fairfax City grow into a college town," Simpson said.
However, residents of the suburb are not ready to turn their town over to college students.
Some students live in rented houses off campus, Mash said, and local residents often complain about their casual collegiate life style.
"The community was here first," said Mash. "It's not like this is a university town where the college is part of the growth of the community. We need to keep talking to keep our relationship with the town good."
Mash said future housing projects, such as additional on-campus dormitories and sorority and fraternity houses, will help ease residents' concerns.
About 65 percent of the students who live in university housing are from the Northern Virginia area, Mash said. He said they would rather pay the university's housing fees than face the "trials and tribulations of commuting."