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Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI)

Rensselaer Unveils Newly Renovated Residence Commons in Downtown Troy

May 15, 2009

Rensselaer Unveils Newly Renovated Residence Commons in Downtown Troy

Architect's rendering of the Howard N. Blitman, P.E. ’50 Residence Commons

Facility will bring hundreds of students to downtown community

Beginning in August 2009, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute students will have a new campus housing option in the heart of downtown Troy. The Institute held a ribbon-cutting ceremony May 15 to unveil a project that has converted the former Best Western Rensselaer Inn into a residence commons to house Rensselaer undergraduate students.

The Howard N. Blitman, P.E. ’50 Residence Commons will expand housing options for Rensselaer undergraduates — specifically sophomores, juniors, and seniors — while bringing approximately 300 students downtown to engage in the vibrant community of Troy. The new residence commons will be situated at the bottom of the Rensselaer Approach, the century-old granite staircase that symbolizes the connection between the City of Troy and the Institute.

Rensselaer President Shirley Ann Jackson was joined at the ceremony by Howard Blitman, P.E. ’50; Bradley F. Aldrich, P.E., president of the National Society of Professional Engineers; Troy Mayor Harry Tutunjian; distinguished alumnus Samuel Josefowitz’42; Rensselaer trustees, students, faculty, and staff; and representatives from the project development team, which includes Blitman Building Corp., Columbia Development Companies, and BBL Construction Services.

In commemorating the opening of the new facility, President Jackson noted that the Blitman Residence Commons demonstrates the commitment by Rensselaer to a new paradigm for the Rensselaer student living and learning experience. “We call our vision for student life the CLASS initiative, for the concept of ‘Clustered Learning Advocacy and Support for Students.’ It is a comprehensive effort built around time-based clustering, and residential clusters. It builds upon our award-winning First-Year Experience with class deans, and extends learning across the spectrum of student residential life at Rensselaer. It is based on clusters of residence halls — or commons — with faculty deans responsible for each commons, with live-in common deans, upper-class and graduate student assistants, and individual class-year deans.”  

“The transformation of the former Best Western into student housing for Rensselaer represents much more than a simple change to a building,” Tutunjian said. “This influx of students into our downtown will one day prove to be the move that enhances the town and gown relationship that we all strive for. When students get a first-hand look at the exciting and eclectic life downtown, the remainder of the student body will then have first-hand accounts to rely on, rather than outdated perceptions. That is a very exciting opportunity for all of us.”

The initiative is the latest step in Rensselaer’s continued investment in downtown Troy. The project, which received strong support from the community, was deliberately designed by Rensselaer to leave the property on the Troy city and school tax rolls.

The Institute pays $1.2 million in rent for office and research space in downtown Troy annually. When combined with Rensselaer staff members working in the Rice, Gurley, and Hedley buildings, the addition of the students in the new residence hall will mean that more than 500 members of the Rensselaer community will be located downtown, near restaurants, shopping, cultural events, and other city activities.

“Our investments in the future of the Institute, Troy, and the greater Capital Region continue with this expansion of student housing into the heart of the city of Troy,” President Jackson said. “It is exciting to see how the extraordinary Renaissance at Rensselaer — including the investment of nearly $700 million in new construction and renovation on campus during the last nine years — has contributed to the economic resurgence of Troy and the surrounding area.”

Enriching the Student Experience at Rensselaer
“Today, when we cut the ribbon to open the Howard N. Blitman, P.E. ’50 Residence Commons, we will set into motion our new vision for student life at Rensselaer,” President Jackson added. “Within this hallmark residence commons, we will build a complete living and learning community — a place designed to foster a sense of belonging, and a feeling of community. It will be a place in which students can feel at home, with trusted people who will live on site — a faculty advisor, professional staff, and student assistants.  Our students will share meals together, work and study together, have fun together — as a community — in this unique space, which will join our campus community with life in the City of Troy.”

The building underwent a complete renovation and modernization, including replacement of the building structure and roof, exterior walls, installation of new safety systems, and upgrading of interior furniture and fixtures.

The existing hotel had 154 rooms and a total square footage of 78,500. In the new residence commons, 148 double rooms will be used for student occupancy, and there will be an apartment for live-in professional staff and four rooms for resident assistants. A select number of rooms also meet the American with Disabilities Act (ADA) standards for accessible design. All of the rooms will have private bathrooms, and students will have access to an on-site fitness center.  

In addition to serving as a residence commons, the building contains conference and multipurpose space that will be used for Rensselaer programs and events. Rensselaer will provide continuous shuttle bus service to campus.

The residence commons also will have a food service facility on site. In an effort to provide students with an innovative dining option — that includes chef-created signature dishes and made-to-order meals — Rensselaer Dining Services, managed by Sodexo Education Services, will launch a restaurant-style approach allowing students to preview and select menu choices via a touch-screen kiosk system. The facility will operate a trayless dining service, helping to minimize waste as well as water and energy usage while creating a more sustainable food service.

 “We honor his magnificent gift to create the Howard N. Blitman, P.E. ’50 Commons,” President Jackson noted.  “This gesture comes full circle for the Blitman family, because in 1954, it was the visionary leadership, and the generous contribution of Howard’s father, Charles, which enabled the completion of — at the time — the state-of-the-art Commons Dining Facility, and four modern residence halls on Freshman Hill, in time for the incoming classes of 1954.”