Catherine Benton has little spare time thanks to her demanding studies as a first-year pharmacy student.
So she was quick to sign up for the first on-campus housing at the Northeast Ohio Medical University.
Benton, 27, said she will be happy to trade her commute from Kent for the “great convenience” of living in a one-bedroom apartment and walking to her classes next fall. “For me, the apartments make sense and are an easy move,” she said.
The housing is part of a huge construction project now under way that will double the size of the 450,000-square-foot NEOMED campus in the next 18 months.
The $176 million in improvements is NEOMED’s first major overhaul since its start in 1977.
The Rootstown Township campus has expanded rapidly in recent years, adding pharmacy and graduate programs and a science, technology, engineering and math high school sponsored by Rootstown schools. Total enrollment is expected to reach 1,550 by 2016.
John Wray, vice president of business and finance, said the campus had reached a tipping point. The investments are long overdue, he said.
“It will be very transformative,” he said. “Our intent is to make it less of a commuter campus and more of a residential campus.”
NEOMED took out $42.5 million in bonds to build a research and graduate education facility that will open in May.
A health, wellness and medical education center, which will include recreation facilities operated by an outside management company, is expected to open next year.
That and other improvements, including parking, landscaping and utilities, is being financed by $84 million in private investments.
Then there is the $37 million housing project that NEOMED is financing via a 501-C corporation called ELC Housing LLC. That project is under way and scheduled to open in August.
For many students, the three four-story housing units may be the single biggest improvement in the pipeline.
Fifty students already have applied to live there and all the one-bedroom apartments are gone.
“We expect it to be full by the time school opens in the fall,” said Alan Gribble, president of Signet Management of Akron, which is coordinating the housing for NEOMED.
Signet has set up a small model at NEOMED to show students what they will get for their $735 a month for a double room or $795 a month for a single.
The fully furnished units will come with free cable and high-speed Internet and an in-suite washer and dryer. Each resident will have his or her own bed, bath and study area, with those in two-bedroom units sharing the kitchen and living area.
This is not a dorm, with planned recreational activities sponsored by NEOMED and resident student assistants patrolling the halls to ensure order.
NEOMED spokeswoman Heather Bing pointed out that this is an apartment community for adults, whether they be students, faculty or staff or people from the community.
“We did focus groups,” Bing said. “This is what the students wanted. They wanted the housing to be separately managed.”
But not everyone has had a positive reaction to NEOMED’s expansion.
Moody’s Investor Services twice has downgraded NEOMED’s bonds in recent months from A1 to A2 and then to Baa1 with a negative outlook over concerns that the expansion is too large and speculative.
While only the research and graduate education facility is being financed directly by NEOMED, the university has agreed to guarantee the debt in the other two projects, and that “shadow debt” weighs heavily with Moody’s, said Carrie Bast, director of budget and resource planning at the medical college.
At the same time, NEOMED is financially healthy according to the all-important Senate Bill 6 ratings computed yearly by the Ohio Board of Regents, Wray said.
The Regents’ metric gives NEOMED a perfect score of “5,” the only such rating among Ohio’s 14 public universities.
In comparison, in 2011, the last year for which figures are available, the University of Akron received a 3.6, Kent State a 4.7 and Youngstown State a 2.3.
Nor has NEOMED reached the end of its plans. A three-story office building for outside doctors, dentists and other health professionals is on tap for the future, Wray said.
Carol Biliczky can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 330-996-3729.