New dormitories in Colonial Building

To achieve its goal of 70 percent of undergraduates living on campus by 2010, Emerson is in the process of refurbishing the Colonial Building at 100 Boylston St. into mostly single room dormitories, a move the school hopes will attract upperclassmen living off-campus back to Boylston Street, said David Ellis, Emerson’s vice president of finance.

The $20 million retool of what was once mostly commercial office space will provide a much-needed 364 beds for the burgeoning on-campus population. The Colonial, which is being refurbished for the first time since 1960, will help alleviate the crunch that has required the college to rent space in two downtown hotels for approximately 130 students.

Currently home to dozens of one- and two-person offices, the 110,000-square foot facility is slowly being vacated as Emerson exercises its powers of the master lease. A handful of Emerson offices also remain there, but Ellis said they are moving in the near future to make way for construction crews.

The renovation of the Colonial Building will use 90 percent of the existing shell, while striving to produce 70 percent less construction waste than average projects of its size, according to Emerson’s 1,000-page institutional master plan, which was last amended in June.

“There is a lot of work involved in [changing the use] of the building. You write a project notification for the Boston Redevelopment Authority. Every single change that you make has to be in a formal document to the master plan,” said Margaret Ings, vice president of government and community relations.

Upperclassmen, however, said single rooms and a central location would not be enough to lure them back to campus.

“To me it’s not really a consideration of the rooms, but a consideration of the price and the meal plan,” said Alex Moore, a junior film major.

“I personally wouldn’t be interested in eating meals on campus. As a vegetarian, they offer almost nothing to me. I wouldn’t want to live on salads and waffles.”

An expansion of the library into the lower floors of the Colonial Building was tentatively planned in November of last year, but Ellis said engineering problems were prohibitive, and that plan has been set aside. Other ways of expanding the library are currently being studied, but are too early to announce, he said.

Ings said the college worked very closely with community groups, seeking their input toward the formation of the finished projects.

“I have a personal philosophy that the more information you share with your neighboring community representatives and members, the more they feel they’re included in the process,” Ings said.

The college is also working toward making the Colonial a green facility, certifying it as a Leader in Environmental Engineering and Design with the U.S. Green Building Council, a process that requires design and energy usage modifications, like pressurized toilets and recycling guidelines. The Piano Row dormitory, opened last year, was also LEED certified, and incorporates many of the same design specifications the Colonial will include.

Emerson is still negotiating the final price of the project, but stands behind the estimated 2009 completion date, Ellis said.

Sophomore marketing major Niccolo Leone, who lived in the Little Building last year, said that regardless of how much privacy a dorm could afford, he still would not consider moving back to campus.

“Campus? It’s prison,” he said