Housing will reopen Breck

By Margaret Ryznar

Two years after closing Breckinridge House, the University of Chicago announced this week that it will reopen the undergraduate dormitory to the housing system in autumn 2003.

“I’m hoping that the type of community that developed there in the several years before we had to close it will return,” said Cheryl Gutman, associate dean of students for housing and dining.

Breckinridge, located on the corner of 59th Street and Blackstone, was closed following the 2001 academic year due to the construction of the Max Palevsky Residential Commons, which temporarily provided a surplus of 200 beds in the undergraduate housing system.

“Since having those vacancies spread out through the system is not the most financially responsible thing to do, we looked at the five smallest buildings and decided that we could close those that were most financially challenging to operate in the long term,” Gutman said.

Housing only 89 students, Breckinridge was chosen as one of the dormitories to close along with Max Mason and Woodward. Yet its intimacy incited a strong movement against the closure decision by students in the dorm.

Residents formed a “Save Breckinridge” campaign in an effort to prevent the dormitory’s demise. Negotiations between University administrators and Breckinridge residents continued throughout the spring quarter of 2001, and many became impassioned about the issue.

“Because Breckinridge is a relatively small residence hall it has been known as a place with a very strong sense of community,” said Katie Callow-Wright, director of undergraduate student housing.

Residents enjoyed not only the intimacy of Breckinridge but also the building offerings. Facilities included a community kitchen, a main lounge with a grand piano, a common area fireplace, study rooms, a computer room, a recreation room with a television, and a music practice room.

Composed of singles and doubles, Breckinridge was the only dormitory offering students single-gender floors.

The campaign to save Breckinridge, however, was unsuccessful, and the house was closed for an expected period of two to three years.

“While I had a great deal of affection and respect for the Breckinridge community, it simply wasn’t financially responsible to operate the house system with 200 open beds. It was extremely difficult to decide among the buildings to be taken ‘off-line’. But this is a system that depends solely on room fees to operate, and it seemed unfair and unreasonable to raise room fees to cover the cost of having those beds spread throughout the system when a consolidation could save several hundreds of thousands in operating costs,” Gutman said.

The decision to reopen Breckinridge is the result of a higher than expected return rate of upperclassman to the housing system. Unlike numerous peer institutions, the University of Chicago requires students to reside in housing for only one year, making each year’s housing demand difficult to predict.

The increase of enrolling first-years coupled with the increase in upperclassman demand for housing has nearly eliminated the initial 200-bed surplus following the opening of Max Palevsky.

“If the return rate for next year is the same as last, we expect to need more beds than we would have without opening Breckinridge,” Gutman said.

Former residents of the dormitory, who were subsequently assigned a house in Max Palevsky, were alerted to the reopening via email and will likely receive priority in selecting Breckinridge rooms for next year. The remaining rooms will be left to the housing lottery.

“The house will be open to both new and returning students,” Callow-Wright said.

In the meantime, excitement about the reopening of Breckinridge continues. “I’m pleased that it is available to use and think it is a great place to live,” Gutman said.