No vacancy on campus Housing: Freshmen are checking in at Maryland's universities, and sometimes their room is at a nearby motel.

August 28, 1998|By Mike Bowler | Mike Bowler,SUN STAFF

COLLEGE PARK -- Todd Weisbrot will spend his first semester at the University of Maryland in relatively luxurious digs: Room 222, Best Western Motel, U.S. 1, College Park.

There's carpeting, free parking only steps away, air conditioning, free cable television and -- once the summer tourist business fades -- free use of the pool.

Weisbrot, 18, is a beneficiary of his own desire to live on the College Park campus. As the first day of the fall semester approaches Monday, Maryland colleges and universities are dealing with a severe housing crunch caused primarily by a surge in freshman enrollment.

The University of Maryland, College Park, which has a dorm waiting list of 900, is asking students in double-occupancy rooms to "triple up." And for the first time since the the last housing crisis in the mid-1980s, the university has contracts with two College Park motels to accommodate 170 students, most of them freshmen.

Transfer students, who, unlike freshmen, aren't guaranteed housing, are being advised to come back next semester or next fall if they want one of the campus' 8,033 dormitory beds.

"It was almost a waste of time," said Theo Callimanis, 20, a biology major transferring from the University of North Carolina at Wilmington. Callimanis and his father, Basil, drove from their home in Scarsdale, N.Y., to an Aug. 15 "housing fair," only to be told that "none of the transfers, pretty much, would get housing," said Callimanis.

Callimanis managed to find an apartment to share close to the College Park campus, but only because he was standing in the lobby when a student called to cancel a lease. Apartment complexes are booked up in College Park, and many have long waiting lists.

The University of Maryland, Baltimore County; Towson University; the University of Maryland, Eastern Shore; Salisbury State University and Morgan State University also report waiting lists for dorm rooms, and the private Maryland Institute, College of Art, is renting apartments in Baltimore's Bolton Hill to house a record freshman class.

Officials at these campuses and at College Park attributed the run on housing to the desire of freshmen to live close to the action. The public campuses don't require freshmen to live on campus, but they guarantee housing for first-time freshmen. And College Park guarantees upperclassmen that they'll get their rooms back.

Todd Weisbrot wants to be on campus "for the sports." Gavin Defreitas, a 21-year-old transfer from Western Maryland College, says he needs to be near his professors in electrical engineering.

"Of course, you'd rather be on campus," said Ari Feingold, 18, of Philadelphia, who will share Room 222 with Weisbrot. "But the rooms are nice, and it might be kind of fun here."

Weisbrot's mother, Debbie, rented a van for the trip from Rockland, N.Y. "I was flabbergasted when I heard he'd live in a motel," she said as she helped unload. "But it looks like it'll be OK. As long as they're serious about security and transportation."

The university is spending $530,000 to rent space and provide services in the Best Western, about a mile north of campus, and in a Quality Inn, a short walk south. The student sections of the motels are operated as dormitories, with university furniture -- motel furnishings take up too much space -- experienced older student counselors and a shuttle service to campus.

Jan Davidson, assistant director of resident life at College Park, said the university "has done everything we can to guarantee housing where we have to guarantee it and to warn people that they have to start early and work hard" if they want off-campus housing. (The university helps in the search and maintains a Web site listing the 60 apartment complexes within six miles of the campus.)

Davidson said the university had expected a housing crunch. Returning dorm residents and freshmen opting to live on campus "are a direct result of our growing stature regionally and nationally," he said.

Yesterday, the first of two move-in days at the University of Maryland's flagship campus, smiling young resident-life aides were everywhere, dispensing soft drinks, balloons and advice and even helping with some of the heavy moving.

Weisbrot and Feingold, who met at a freshman orientation session and decided to be roommates, spent a couple of hours arranging and rearranging Room 222, until it reached a state of semichaos.

"The room is evolving," declared Wendy Weber, Weisbrot's aunt. She said she had come from New York to help with the move and provide "moral support" to her sister, a single mother entrusting her only child to the University of Maryland -- at a motel.

"It's a bittersweet time," said Weber.

Pub Date: 8/28/98

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