Grad students forced out after housing closure

Sheila Burt

CHICAGO — A prominent building that houses professional and graduate students on Northwestern’s Chicago campus will close in the summer because of declining occupancy, university officials announced last week. The closure will displace more than 100 students who currently live in the building and must move when their housing contracts expire.

Lake Shore Center, 850 N. Lake Shore Dr., is located in the heart of NU’s Chicago Campus, just blocks away from the Law School and the Feinberg School of Medicine.

Despite its location, the 18-story building, which can hold up to 449 people, currently houses 127. Officials cited this low occupancy rate and additional repairs the building would need as reasons for closing it.

“At the end of the day, we look at the decline in occupancy rate,” said Eugene Sunshine, senior vice president for business and finance. “Graduate students have voted with their feet.”

Sunshine added that the university has not decided what will happen to the building, citing the possibilities of using the building for other university purposes, tearing it down and building a new one, or leasing the land.

The possibility of renovating it for student living options is “highly unlikely,” he added.

“The cost of renovating it and establishing it as a type of housing that would be attractive to students is, from the point of view of costs, not economically feasible,” Sunshine said.

Lake Shore Center currently features dormitory-style rooms without kitchens — a disadvantage for many students who said they could find apartments with kitchens for a similar price.

First-year medical student Rajeev Mehta, who has lived in Lake Shore Center since August, said he pays $850 per month for his room while a studio nearby would probably cost about $900 per month.

“(Lake Shore Center) is not very profitable for the university or for the students,” he said.

Mehta, Weinberg ’04, said he currently is looking for a studio nearby to live in once his contract ends.

Because rumors about Lake Shore Center’s closing circulated earlier in the year, first-year medical student Ethan Molitch-Hou wasn’t surprised when he received a letter in his mailbox last week announcing the building’s closure.

“You don’t get a kitchen. The food isn’t that good,” Molitch-Hou said, explaining why most students are not attracted to the building. “There’s a dining hall here only open at night. Across the way there’s one only open in the afternoon.”

Some students who train for a few months as part of a specific program or who are visiting from other countries may be more affected by the closing, several graduate students noted. University officials said they would assist students with finding living options.

Lake Shore Center is one of two buildings that houses students on the Chicago Campus. The other building, Abbott Hall, features 42 studios or one-bedroom apartments.

The Lake Shore Center has been used to house students since the university bought the building in 1977 for $7.5 million from the Lake Shore Club, a men’s athletic club.

In addition to living spaces, Lake Shore Center also features several recreational facilities used by students and Chicago residents, as well as several offices and function rooms for student-group meetings. All of these facilities will be closed with the building.

Sunshine emphasized that officials will look at options to more adequately replace the recreational facilities in Lake Shore.

The current swimming pool and basketball court in Lake Shore Center will not be replaced in Abbott, however, because of space limitations.

A new fitness center will be built in Abbott in place of the building’s current dining area, which will close at the end of the year.

“We’ve made some decisions about putting recreational facilities in Abbott, but we’re not just stopping there,” he said. “Something else may be feasible.”

Currently there are 1,184 members at the Lake Shore Fitness Center, according to fitness employee Ronald Frazier, 24. Frazier estimated that about 60 percent of the members are students.

Reach Sheila Burt at [email protected].