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The newspaper of The Johns Hopkins University August 21, 2006 | Vol. 35 No. 42
Charles Commons ushers in new era for JHU

Amy Lynne Shelton, an assistant professor in Psychological and Brain Sciences, will be the first Charles Commons Faculty Fellow. She and her family will move into the new Homewood residence hall next week, just days before the upperclassmen arrive with their belongings. Last week, workers were laying brick sidewalks near the Charles Building entrance.

Home for upperclassmen set to open its doors in heart of Charles Village

By Amy Lunday, Homewood
Photos by Will Kirk / HPS

So long jackhammers, cement mixers and construction crews. Hello laptops, eSuds and upperclassmen: After two years of demolition and construction, the Homewood campus is just days away from opening the doors to Charles Commons, the highly anticipated residential, dining and retail complex in the heart of Charles Village.

A herculean effort is under way to transform the 313,000-square-foot site from a hard-hat zone into a home away from home for the Commons' first 618 residents, who will move in Sunday and Monday, Sept. 3 and 4. They'll be living in an innovative space full of high-tech conveniences like eSuds, which will ping students' inboxes when a washing machine is available in the laundry room and again when their whites are done spinning. They'll have an array of menu items to choose from at "3rd on 33rd," the aptly named third-floor dining hall. And come late October, a 29,000-square-foot Barnes & Noble Bookstore on the ground floor will be a short elevator ride away.

But all the bells and whistles shouldn't distract from the fact that the opening of Charles Commons is a momentous occasion for Johns Hopkins, and is about much more than its nifty perks and additional beds, according to Paula Burger, dean of undergraduate education. What it's really about, she said, is a first step toward guaranteeing that Homewood juniors and seniors who want university housing can get it. Up till now, the freshman and sophomore classes have filled the campus residence halls and upperclassmen have been on their own.

"I think it's an important milestone," Burger said. "We go to all this trouble to bring together this extraordinarily talented and interesting group of students and too soon give them no option but to disperse through the Charles Village community. I think that's a shame and a loss not only for individual students but for the collective whole, too. If you disperse the students too soon, you lose some of the educational advantage of having such a bright and interesting group of students together."

That said, even Burger gets giddy about all that is "uncommonly nice" about the Commons, a two-part structure linked by a bridge.

"It's a handsome building on the outside," Burger said. "The architecture — you just ride by the building and it's so impressive. But the really important thing is what's going to go on inside that building [to elevate the undergraduate experience]."

The windows of the fitness center overlook the lobby of the Charles Building. Across the way is the game room.

And indeed the complex brings more than just students together. Charles Commons brings the Homewood campus across Charles Street into Charles Village, from the style of the building to the brick pavers lining the sidewalk, mirroring the pathways that crisscross the quads.

The Commons will also bring a faculty presence to residential life. Amy Lynne Shelton, an assistant professor in the Krieger School's Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences with a joint appointment in Neurosciences in the School of Medicine, will be the Charles Commons Faculty Fellow, chosen from a sizable pool of interested applicants. The whole family — she, her husband, Matt Lindsey (an environmental specialist and mostly stay-at-home dad), and their 13-month-old son, Ryan — will be moving in just ahead of the students, as soon as their three-bedroom apartment in the Charles Building is ready to go.

It's not a long-distance move for Shelton and her family — they had been living in the nearby Halstead at Guilford, formerly the Cambridge at 3900, and were seeking a new place to live. Burger's letter seeking candidates for the faculty fellow position arrived in the mail just as they were about to enter the real estate market.

"I showed the letter to my husband, at first thinking to myself, 'Who would really want to do this?'" Shelton said. "But he looked at it and thought I was showing it to him because I actually wanted to do it. So he said, 'This sounds like something you'd like to do and would be good at,' and he suggested that I go for it."

The timing for the new role was right. Shelton's tenure as director of undergraduate studies for her department was coming to an end, and as faculty fellow, she'll be able to continue working closely with students. Shelton will be responsible for developing both formal and informal programs to engage students in educational, cultural, recreational and social pursuits to help foster a sense of community among the residents.

"I just like getting to know students," Shelton said. "It's hard to get to know them outside of the classroom, partly because we don't always make enough of an effort. It's not usually something we get to do, to know them personally. I want to show them that we are people, too, with lives and families."

A painter adds a splash of color during the last weeks of construction.

Shelton and her family will live in their rent-free second-floor apartment in the Charles Building for at least two years, with the possibility of extending their stay for a third year. She said she is looking forward to sharing her passions — movies and music — through movie nights and ad hoc ensembles where she can play her flute with other musicians living in Charles Commons. She also hopes to host cooking demonstrations and group dinners. Logistical and administrative support in planning such events will come from her new next-door neighbor, Kourtney Bennett, the graduate assistant for Charles Commons. Bennett is a student in biochemistry at the Bloomberg School of Public Health. A resident director and 12 community assistants will also live in the building.

All the students in Charles Commons have single rooms, and the price is the same whether they are living in two- or four-person suites, all of which have common spaces and kitchenettes. Leases in the 10-story St. Paul Building run for nine months, and the rate is $7,892. During the summer, the spaces will be used for conferences. Students who prefer an 11-month lease can be accommodated in the 12-story Charles Building. The lease starts in September and ends July 31, and costs $9,647.

A lot of the social activities in Charles Commons will naturally center around the dining facility and its adjacent conference rooms. Set to open Sept. 3, 3rd on 33rd will feature food stations named Crisp, the Grille, Passport (international foods), the Hearth (Old World favorites) and Finales (coffee and desserts).

"We hope that 3rd on 33rd will become a hangout space for all Hopkins students," Burger said. "It will be great food in a great venue — there's a stage in the corner, soft seating, pool tables and a fireplace. I hope that in some ways it will provide student union services, where it will be open late in the evening and if you are home late from the library and have a case of the hungries, you can stop by and see your friends."

Other amenities include a fitness center, game room, music practice rooms, lounge areas, group study rooms and a community kitchen and patio for student use.

The bridge between the two buildings will have a security station with a guard on duty 24 hours a day. A roving security guard will also be assigned to the building for 16 hours each day. There are security cameras networked to the campuswide security monitoring system and intercoms at the entrances so the guard at the bridge desk can see and talk to those nonresidents who request access to the building.

David McDonough of Johns Hopkins Real Estate and Jim Miller of Facilities Management check out a common area.

The big draw for the community — the Barnes & Noble Bookstore — is set to open Oct. 23, according to David McDonough, senior director of development oversight for Johns Hopkins Real Estate. With its entrance on the corner of 33rd and St. Paul streets, the two-story space will feature general retail services on the main floor — books, a coffee bar serving Starbucks coffee, magazines and Johns Hopkins paraphernalia. The second floor will be dedicated to textbooks for Homewood courses. Johns Hopkins-themed murals and notable quotes will decorate the entire store, McDonough said.

When it opens, it's likely that the bookstore will be the highlight of what Charles Commons represents to the administration — as Krieger School Dean Adam Falk put it, "the integration of students and student life into the fabric of the Charles Village community."

"The line between the experience in the classroom and the experience on campus is a porous one; one affects the other," Falk said. "We've been working to get students to see themselves as neighbors, and they've been very responsive. We want them to see Charles Village as an extension of campus and for the residents to see Johns Hopkins as part of their neighborhood."

The project was developed by a Struever Bros. Eccles & Rouse-led team called the Collegetown Development Alliance. Ayers Saint Gross was responsible for the project's master plan and the building's facade, and Design Collective designed the interiors of the student housing. Both are Baltimore architectural firms.


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