Get Thee to a Nunnery


Colby found an innovative solution to an unexpected housing shortage,leasing a former Catholic nuns' residence to house 58 students a few hundred yards from the edge of campus.

By Gerry Boyle '78

The former Ursuline Sisters' home adjoining the Mt. Merici School was leased late in the summer to deal with a housing crisis after three factors combined to swell the student population: an unexpectedly high yield from the applicants admitted to the Class of 2009, an unusual number of students returning from leaves of absence, and fewer students choosing to live off campus.

College officials considered other options to house students, including reserving space in a local hotel, but the recently vacated convent proved the best option. The number of retired Ursuline sisters living there had declined, and the remaining residents recently moved to a new, smaller building on the grounds.

The brick building, at the end of a tree-shaded drive, was converted to a dormitory with 17 double rooms and 34 singles and was named "Colby Gardens." To transport students between the dorm and campus buildings, about a half-mile away, the College is providing a Colby Gardens shuttle van, has added the new dormitory to the regular jitney run, and has given students taxi vouchers. Inside, Colby Gardens features wireless Internet, a mini-cafeteria where continental breakfast is available, a fitness room, and spacious lounges with televisions.

Initial reaction to the plan was mixed, with some students"and parents"saying they preferred housing on the main campus. Students placed in Colby Gardens subsequently were given the option of rooms on the main campus; 19 of them moved. Offered the opportunity to move into Colby Gardens from main-campus dorms, 15 students accepted, according to the office of the dean of students.

Head Resident Elli Jenkins '06 said some Colby Gardens residents would prefer to be on campus but most of the remaining residents seemed satisfied with their housing. Jenkins said she was enjoying the opportunity to see people other than college students. "It's the perfect situation," she said. "The nuns and the [Mt. Merici School] kids next door."

Less than perfect, some neighborhood residents feared. Before students arrived, neighbors"including Colby faculty"voiced concerns, anticipating noise and traffic problems. In neighborhood meetings and before the Waterville City Council, they demanded that Colby and city officials address those issues. Neighbors also complained they were not notified of the Colby move in advance.

Vice President for Student Affairs Janice Kassman told neighbors"and city officials"that student and professional staff would be in place to enforce regulations, including alcohol sanctions, and assured that the building's (mostly underage) residents would not be allowed to host parties where alcohol was served.

Two weeks into the semester, Kassman said there had been no problems. "We had the first weekend and we had no noise complaints that I know of," she said. "So far, so good."