BU dorm offers a study in luxury

Samantha Barbosa (left) and Rina Beyda have a commanding view from the 25th floor of the apartment-style dorm at BU. Samantha Barbosa (left) and Rina Beyda have a commanding view from the 25th floor of the apartment-style dorm at BU. (Photos By John Tlumacki/Globe Staff)
By Tracy Jan
Globe Staff / September 2, 2009

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From the 26th floor of Boston’s newest high-rise, residents are treated to a sweeping view encompassing the historic Bunker Hill monument, the gilded dome of the State House, the majestic Harbor Islands, and the jets alighting and ascending from the distant airport. Just below, sailboats and rowing shells silently glide along the Charles River.

Despite the million-dollar vista, this is not the penthouse suite of a four-star hotel or a luxury condominium in the Back Bay. It’s the common room of a Boston University dorm, perhaps the most opulent residence hall to ever grace the local college landscape. Name tags taped to students’ doors say it all: “Skyview from the Center of the BUniverse.’’

“Sometimes I miss the elevator because I’m too busy looking out the window,’’ said Rina Beyda, a junior from Los Angeles and one of just 14 students lucky enough to land a room on the 25th floor, the highest residential level.

The view is not the only amenity. So luxurious is the 960-bed dorm that parents’ jaws dropped in disbelief when they helped their children move in last week. The suites of singles and doubles, with elegantly furnished common rooms, large private baths, walk-in closets, and floor-length mirrors, resemble nothing like what older generations remember of their college housing - sterile cinder-block boxes with institutional bunk beds and a communal bathroom down the hall.

“Life is tough,’’ said Laurie Hanafin, as she pushed a large orange crate full of her daughter’s belongings into her sixth-floor suite. “I’m going back to college. If there’s a martini bar, I’m staying.’’

No martini bar - after all, most residents are underage. But in addition to the panorama of the city skyline, students have access to a media lounge with a plasma TV for watching movies and playing video games.

Other amenities include soundproof piano rooms that allow students to practice without disturbing those studying in the 24-hour reading room, which is outfitted with plush adjustable furniture befitting a first-class airport lounge. The laundry room - with washers and dryers programmed to alert students via computer when they are available - overlooks the athletic field and stadium.

A trio of futuristic chandeliers hangs in the stairwell of the airy lobby. Newly potted lady-finger palms and creeping ficus fill giant stainless steel planters.

“Students want beauty, and they should have beauty,’’ Kenneth Elmore, BU’s dean of students, said during a tour of the dorm. With its hotel ambience, “the only thing we’re missing is music’’ - though he’s considering getting it piped in.

The completion of the glass-and-steel tower, known as Student Village II because it is the second residential tower to be built on the western reaches of campus, signifies BU’s decades-long transformation from a commuter school to a residential college. For the first time in recent memory, the university will be able to house all students who want to live on campus, nearly 80 percent of its 16,000 undergraduates; no one will be relegated to local hotels this year.

Some critics - jealous, perhaps - may question why BU bothered to erect such posh quarters to house a bunch of college students, and whether the new dorm represents another sign of coddling the young. Standards for college housing have risen significantly over the years, with Northeastern University and Emerson College also unveiling new luxe accommodations this fall.

BU’s president, Robert Brown, says the upgrade is critical to the university’s goal of someday housing 85 percent of its undergraduates on campus amid rising competition with apartment rentals all over the city. Moving more students into dorms also helps to ease town-gown tensions.

“You can’t get a lot of upperclassmen who want to live in traditional dorms in their junior and senior years,’’ Brown said. University master plans call for a third high-rise on the Student Village site, but Brown said it will be at least three years before the university would consider moving forward.

Until then, students looking for high-end quarters must enter the housing lottery and hope they draw a number low enough to qualify for the new dorm. Samantha Barbosa, the 25th senior in last spring’s housing lottery, chose to shell out nearly $13,000 a year for a 25th-floor apartment in the gleaming tower, nearly $5,000 more than she would have paid for a standard dorm room.

“I applied by myself because my friends were all too cheap to live here,’’ said Barbosa, who is paying for the room with student loans. “For the past three years, I lived in the lowest-priced dorms. Being a senior, I’ve worked really hard and I figured I deserve to live in a place like this.’’

Some parents lament the day their children must move beyond the tangerine and mocha walls of the new dorm into the real world.

“I’m so happy to be leaving you in this place,’’ Mimi Leahey-Nangle told her son as she gazed out at the Charles River while helping him unpack. “But after living like this, you graduate facing a terrible job market and having to live with rats in Brooklyn.’’

Tracy Jan can be reached at