Update: St. Joseph’s College will be building dormitories, it was announced Dec. 3.
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Original story: The start of fall semester, 2017.
If St. Joseph’s College moves forward with plans to build dorm rooms for 200 to 400 incoming students at its Patchogue campus, that’s the target date for getting the buildings open.
They would include residency halls — complete with dorm rooms and gathering spaces — and a cafeteria.
But before committing to moving the commuter school toward more of a residential campus, there are some big questions that need answering, said St. Joseph’s president, Jack Calareso.
“Is there a need? “I think the answer will be yes,” Dr. Calareso said. “And, is this a good economic commitment on the part of the college? Do the numbers work?”
“I’d be shocked if we don’t have a compelling case for moving in this direction,” he said.
St. Joseph’s is hiring an outside consulting firm to help answer those questions, though, and the college’s Board of Trustees will likely be presented with a formal proposal later this year for consideration.
“We would not fund this project ourselves, but work with a partner who would build the building,” Dr. Calareso explained. “Then we’d enter into an agreement with them, and they would get paid back through an ‘X’ number of years [through revenues]. So it’s a way to have an investment like this without incurring additional debit.”
The school’s first dormatories would be built on its existing playing fields at the northern end of the Patchogue campus, just east of Waverley Avenue along Sunrise Highway. What the move could also set the stage for is bringing dorms to downtown Patchogue Village in the not-so-distant future.
“The first buildings would be on campus,” Dr. Calareso said. “If the demand was such, we would move to a second phase, and we think Patchogue is a great location to have residence populations because the village is such an attractive place.”
That doesn’t mean college kids taking over the house next door, he stressed.
“The model that I’ve used in other institutions is, you build residence facility but in an apartment style and in an area where there’s other apartments, not where there’s families and retired people,” he said. “There are lots of opportunities in and around the village, where students can take advantage of the various amenities and we would provide continual security and staffing.”
Patchogue Mayor Paul Pontieri said he’d welcome college students to the village.
“If depends on where the location is, and how they’re managed, but I think the concept is a good one,” Pontieri said. “Dr. Calareso is a very progressive, talented man and I think he’s looking at this as the future of the college.”
Pontieri also acknowledged that no traditional college towns exist anywhere else on Long Island.
“If it increases the viability of St. Joseph’s and their ability to expand, it’s perfect to bring young kids into town,” he said. “It allows us a whole new, different component to who we are as a community.”
Why is the almost 100-year-old college just now seriously considering dorms?
Enrollment at St. Joseph’s has been dropping, Dr. Calareso said, mostly because families in Suffolk County are having fewer kids than in the past, and that means a smaller pool of local high school graduates.
The school is preparing to welcome 650 freshman in late August. With new dorms, the hope is that incoming classes will be closer to 800 or 900 students.
“This allows us to market residency to two populations,” Dr. Calareso said. “One is the current population that at some point is ready for independence. The other population is students who have expressed interest from as close as Nassau, or New Jersey or Pennsylvania, but exclude St. Joseph’s from consideration because there’s no place to live.”
He noted that most residential colleges and universities draw most of their students from within a 1- and 2-hour driving radius.
“Right now, the only way to increase enrollment is to out-compete our fellow institutions on Long Island but that’s a zero sum game.” he said. “In the end, we’d just be shifting numbers around.”
Photo: St. Joseph’s president Jack Calareso in his Patchogue office last week. (Credit: Michael White)