The Board of Zoning Adjustment approved GW’s campus plan Tuesday, but sent mixed signals in the stipulations it could ultimately attach when the process is finalized.
The BZA acted wisely by making increases in GW enrollment and further construction contingent upon housing 70 percent of undergraduate students on campus. However, the board members went too far by placing restrictions on construction of academic facilities, and refusing to consider the Hall on Virginia Avenue or Aston Hall part of GW’s on-campus housing.
Requiring GW to tie enrollment increases to a corresponding expansion of the University’s ability to accommodate its students, is a proper use of governmental power that will force administrators to focus on students’ housing needs. But stipulating that any new academic buildings must have at least 50 percent of their space earmarked for residential use limits the University’s ability to accomplish its primary mission: education. The BZA, Foggy Bottom residents and GW officials should not forget that a majority of GW students are in graduate programs and do not live on campus. For their tuition dollars, these students deserve modern, complete academic facilities. GW should also have the ability to add much-needed academic space along with housing projects.
The other major problem with the BZA’s intentions is the failure to include students in the HOVA and Aston in the required statistic that 70 percent of undergraduates be housed on campus. GW already owns both buildings and operates them as residence halls. They are outfitted with GWorld card readers, cameras, University Police coverage and other expensive enhancements necessary to create residential facilities. Discounting the about 520 beds those buildings represent forces GW into an almost untenable position. GW now houses about 65 percent of its undergraduates in residence halls, but removing these buildings, and about eight percent of the student population from the count, makes the 70 percent mark almost unreachable in coming years.
The BZA should continue to require GW to live up to promises to accommodate its students, but the board members should not make that process more difficult by restricting the ability for the University to build more classrooms and discounting facilities already in place.