New CSULB dorms move forward at CSU, despite concerns about costs

Despite concerns about high cost and low density, plans for a new 476-bed facility at Cal State Long Beach moved closer to reality Tuesday after approval by two key Cal State University committees at the chancellor’s office.

The $104 million courtyard-style Parkside North Housing building, set to go up at the intersection of Earl Warren Drive and Atherton Street, passed the finance and campus planning committees Tuesday and trustees are likely to grant final approval on Wednesday.

The 210-unit dorm should be completed by 2021 and will largely replace older student housing on campus, particularly at Hillside College. The new building, the first new CSULB dorm in 30 years, will include photovoltaic panels on rooftop canopies to limit electricity use, as well as low-flow water fixtures and reclaimed water for toilets and irrigation.

CSULB students pay about $12,500 annually for room and board. A 4% dorm fee increase will help pay for the new facility, which should break ground in September.

The Leadership in Environmental and Energy Design (LEED) Platinum building would cost about $591 per square foot. According to information provided by the CSU, that’s more than the square-footage costs in other similar projects in Pomona ($389 in 2017) and San Jose State ($508 in 2014). Reasons given were lower density for the Long Beach project, which borders a residential neighborhood, creating smaller economies of scale, and more expensive sustainable design features that officials believe will save energy costs down the road.

Trustee Peter J. Taylor said that “every time we add a groovy add-on that drives costs … we’re taking and sucking money out of the pockets of students and their parents.

“I’m going to vote for this because I get that students are living out of their cars, but please, in the future, can we maybe scale back and maybe shave back these costs to something more reasonable?”

CSULB President Jane Close Conoley said “the real driver of cost is not the amenities, it’s the soil condition. We are essentially on a wetlands and whenever we have to build, we have to take all this unsuitable soil out and we have to bring soil in” and use more costly support structures.

Some trustees also wondered why the project, which is four stories on the side facing campus and three on the side facing Atherton Street, wasn’t bigger. Trustee and campus planning committee member Lateefah Simon said that while she understood the sensitivities of building in a residential area, “you only get one time in three generations to build on public land … I know it’s difficult when we’re working with our neighbors to push the limits, but in terms of the aspirational density, I think we need to move higher … Housing is extremely costly. I would like us to push as many beds, as many opportunities as possible.”

Mayor Robert Garcia voiced support for the project. “The state of California is in a housing crisis,” Garcia told trustees. “ … We know students are rent burdened, look at the (housing) waiting list and you can see that.”

Bruce DD MacRae, a Long Beach State athletes booster who lives down the street from the new dorms, was the only resident to comment on the project Tuesday. MacRae said of he and his fellow neighbors, “we are NIMBYs, we are.” He said he and school officials met with neighbors and helped alleviate concerns.

“It’s the little things, it’s the trash in your neighborhood; it’s the parking,” he said. “But they’ve all been addressed, and everybody seems pretty happy. We need change, we need growth. We have students living on our streets because they are truly homeless and that is our fault …. The  community. Putting new dorms up is going to benefit Long Beach State, it’s going to benefit our community.”

CSU trustees on Tuesday, July 23, 2019, discuss a new dorm project planned for Cal State Long Beach. Photo by Barbara Kingsley-Wilson.

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Barbara Kingsley-Wilson is a full-time lecturer at California State University, Long Beach and an adviser to the campus’s student run newspaper, the Daily 49er. A journalist with over 20 years in the field, she continues to write and spends her summers as a general assignment reporter for the Long Beach Post. When she’s not drilling her pupils on the details of AP style, she’s likely practicing her downward dog or traversing the city perched atop her mountain bike.