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Don’t call it a dorm: NIU students move into $6,500-per-semester New Residence Hall

Senior Eric Bellefontaine South Elgprepares his room for school year Thursday New Residence Hall Northern Illinois University Dekalb.  The

Senior Eric Bellefontaine of South Elgin prepares his room for the school year Thursday at the New Residence Hall at Northern Illinois University in Dekalb. The state of the art facility that's hotel-like compared to regular dorms, is the first one built on the campus in 44 years. August 23, 2012 | Michael Smart~Sun-Times Media

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Updated: August 24, 2012 8:10AM



DeKALB — Students moved into the New Residence Hall at Northern Illinois University here Thursday.

Yes, that’s the name in front of the complex. No corporate sponsor, no deep pocket or famous alumnus graces a marker outside this state-of-the-art, $80 million facility.

But whatever you call the place, just don’t call it a dorm.

If you insist on sticking to Merriam-Webster’s online definition of a dormitory as “a residence hall providing rooms for individuals or for groups usually without private baths” — and question such political correctness and/or marketing jargon — you could be asked to leave the east third floor by Community Advisor Bridget Hickey as if you had hurled a derogatory word her way.

That would come after you are told in no uncertain terms that, as a quote found on the Web states, “If there was one word that residence hall educators would like to see erased from university campus vocabularies, it would be the word ‘dormitory.’ ”

That is from Edward Dadez, a professor who now is a vice president at Saint Leo University in Florida. In an online essay, he says dormitory is “an archaic term used to describe a building where students reside (and) is outdated and contrary to the beliefs of professionals in the field of student development. The current language designates these buildings as residence halls and/or living-learning centers.”

Besides, at New Residence Hall, the housing is set up so that there are semi-private restrooms shared with just one other student and clustered living arrangements with a commons for 12 students that holds a study area, living room with flat-screen TV, kitchenette, washer and dryer — sort of like a set adapted from reality TV’s “Big Brother.”

And it all comes with a price tag of at least $6,500 a semester for room and board, depending on your meal plan.

Rent comparison

For that money, you and the person you share a bathroom with could afford the $2,100 monthly rent for a home about 10 miles away in Sycamore, which has five bedrooms, 2,900 square feet, a basement, garage and 2.5 baths. Or just five miles from campus in DeKalb, the $2,300 rent for a 2,085-square-foot, new, three-bedroom home that has marble countertops, two bathrooms, garage, jacuzzi and fireplace.

You’d be on your own for meals at those homes, of course.

New Residence Hall also has a fireside lounge, a wireless gaming area, fitness center, outdoor basketball and sand volleyball courts and beanbag area.

It is the first new dorm at NIU in 44 years and part of the university’s “Residential Renaissance,” a four-year plan in which other campus housing is being renovated.

All this is toward a goal to become “the most student-centered regional public university in the Midwest,” as NIU President John Peters put it in a press release.

While times might be tough for some — particularly for those trying to afford the ever-rising cost of a higher education — New Residence Hall had no trouble filling its 1,008 bedrooms.

“It was luck. We were in a lottery,” said Deborah Riis of Woodstock as she waited for her daughter, Amber, a junior nursing program transfer student from McHenry County College, to return to her pile of belongings in front of the hall to be taken by volunteers to her room.

Nancy Anderson-Persels of Barrington Hills said she was one of the last parents to secure one of those rooms — site unseen but for an Internet tour — for her daughter, Tiffany.

A freshman psychology major and high school gymnast, Tiffany noted the big sells for the digs were that she would have her own room and that it is a new place — points made by every incoming resident interviewed for this story.

Tiffany’s dad, Max Persels, noted the dorm was a far cry from the huge Riley Hall where he lived while attending Iowa State University in the mid-1950s. Persels is a retired pilot, and the couple saved money to pay for their daughter’s education.

Parental help

Michael Stade, a freshman actuarial sciences major from Elgin, noted his parents were picking up part of the tab, along with scholarship money he had secured. His father, Jim is an accountant for Sherman Health, while his mother teaches in District U46.

Stade said that even though he is living in the most expensive dorm on campus, his and his parents’ out-of-pocket expenses for attending NIU this year would be $18,000 — and considerably less than the $52,000 it would have cost to attend DePaul University in Chicago for the year.

On top of room and board, tuition, general fees and expenses run more than $6,200 at NIU for fall semester and more than $12,400 for two terms.

Sharonda Roberson, a freshman math major from Aurora, said she was paying her NIU bills — including living in the new place — with scholarships and loans.

“It’s just me,” Roberson said.

“(The new hall) is better than where I lived freshman year, but I enjoyed Grant and that experience,” said Krystal Grady of Elgin.

Grady is a senior public health major with a semester and an internship left to complete before heading to grad school. She is living in an on-campus apartment at Northern View Community, which runs $4,000 a semester, and which she pays for with financial aid, some money from home, and working the front desk of New Residence Hall.

While a good many of those moving in were freshmen, Eric Bellefontaine of South Elgin is a senior computer sciences major who lived last year in an off-campus apartment complex, where he found the other dwellers to be less than social.

Last year, Bellefontaine paid $600 per month rent, plus $50 a month for electricity and $80 a month for Internet access, and he said he spent about $80 a month on food. He worked an internship over summer with Discover Financial Services and said he makes Xbox games for a program at NIU to help pay his bills.

Sean Goblet, a freshman accounting major from Naperville, said both his parents had attended NIU, which helped him obtain a legacy scholarship. That, other scholarship money including the honors program, and loans his parents made for him are how he is affording his education.

Goblet had attended a two-day honors retreat, so he already was moved in Thursday and was enjoying his new quarters but for a few flaws.

“For cellphone reception, you have to move to the window. Then there are the locks,” Goblet said.

Residents need a key card to get into their 12-unit pods, then unlock a door to where two bedrooms share the bathroom and two sinks, then unlock another door to get into their small, private rooms.

As for what the place is called, Goblet said it’s being referred to as a dorm by students and parents, and has a nickname already.

“We call it Res Hall,” he said.



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