C of C scrambles to find housing for honor students being displaced by dorm renovations

Max Nielson is one of 200 College of Charleston honor students who will have to move out of the Rutledge Rivers Residence halls while the buildings undergo extensive renovations.

The College of Charleston is scrambling to find places on and near campus to house 200 of its best and brightest students who must move out of their dorms in the next few weeks while the facilities undergo extensive renovations.

Last week, a water leak from the ceiling in a hallway on the third floor of the Rutledge Rivers Residence Hall forced school leaders to evacuate 28 students, placing some in rare available rooms in other dorms and the rest at a downtown hotel. When workers examined the ceiling, they found the leaking and condensation problems were more pervasive than they first thought.

Rutledge Rivers is connected by a shared lobby to the Buist Rivers Residence Hall, which also houses honor students. Living in a community with other honor students was a perk offered to lure the high-achieving students to the college.

Both buildings were built in the 1970s and contain asbestos, which would pose a health hazard to students if workers began removing ceiling tiles. So the college will shut down both dorms in the next few weeks to begin repairs. They will remain closed for the rest of the year.

Kaitlyn Kaufman, a freshman who moved into Buist Rivers last month, said she liked living in a community of committed, hard-working students. “It’s nice and quiet, and you don’t have to worry about people coming in drunk and throwing up,” she said of her current living arrangement.

Kaufman said she’s certain the college will provide other opportunities for honor students to connect with each other. “It’s going to be tough being broken up,” she said, “but it will be OK.”

College spokesman Mike Robertson said the college encourages students to live on campus because they tend to fare better academically and become more engaged in campus life. But because more students have chosen to live on campus in recent years, there is less on-campus housing available.

The college soon will have about 70 open spots, he said. The school is renovating some of its student housing space in historic homes near campus. The renovation work was delayed, he said, but it should be complete by mid-October. When it’s done, some students will be moving out of dorms and into the homes. That will free up some space, he said, but not enough for all the honor students.

Trisha Folds-Bennett, dean of the honor college, said the students being put out of their dorms are among the best students on campus. “These are our top recruits and top scholarship students.”

About half of the students being displaced are in-state students, she said. The rest come from outside South Carolina.

A team is working feverishly to find suitable housing within walking distance of campus, Folds-Bennett said. She’s hoping school leaders can find a wing in a condominium or apartment building so students can be close to each other. “We’re not interested in placing them randomly around the city.”

These are serious students, Folds-Bennett said. About 85 percent of students who graduate from the honors college enroll in medical school, law school or another graduate program within five years.

“We’re going to create an honors community,” Folds-Bennett said. Students just want to know where they are going to be living and who they will be living with, she said. And college leaders are working hard to answer those questions.

Ryan Spraker, a sophomore from Myrtle Beach, said all he wants is a comfortable place that is close to campus. And he hopes to be able to keep the same roommate. But he’ll miss the atmosphere in Rutledge Rivers, he said. “It’s a big honors family.”

Max Nielson, a sophomore from Columbia, said he’s keeping an open mind. “I’m happy-go-lucky and this is another adventure,” he said. And, he added, the honors dorms are older, cheaper buildings. So he’s holding out hope that the honor students will be moved to better facilities for the price of their current dorms.

Reach Diane Knich at 937-5491 or on Twitter @dianeknich.