October 3, 2003

Breckinridge re-opens, highlights week of move-in

While students streamed through campus into the dorms last week—Snellians into their aged hall and residents of Max Palevsky into their newly constructed Residential Commons—students in Breckinridge House had the distinction of moving into a dormitory that is simultaneously old and new.

Breckinridge, located at 1442 East 59th Street, opened its doors to students last week after being closed for two years. The decisions to close and re-open the dorm were based on the changing needs of the housing system.

The housing office closed Breckinridge when Max Palevsky was opened and it was clear that there would be more available rooms than necessary, according to Katie Callow-Wright, associate dean of students for housing and dining services.

"It was going to be a poor use of our finances to keep those two buildings open and have approximately 200 vacancies spread out around the house system," Callow-Wright said. "Breckinridge needed work anyway."

Breckinridge residents, more affectionately known as "Breckies," almost uniformly praise the sense of community in their house. They say that Breck's centrally located lounge, its distance from campus, and its small size all make for a tightly-knit group.

The dorm may have only been open for a week, but that has not stopped Breckies from forging a unique new identity. "Breck is back, and so is soft, beautiful hair," residents there say.

Jenny Sax, one of Breckinridge's two Resident Heads, has been impressed with house enthusiasm. "The first-years even composed a song," she said.

Breckinridge's other Resident Head, Benjamin Sax, says that the house is filled to its capacity of 88 students.

"So far, so good," he said, emphasizing that the charming building lends itself to a stronger sense of community. "You feel like you're in a university—higher ceilings, hollow-looking wooden doors, arches. It's really nice."

When asked if the reopened-Breckinridge has lived up to his memories of the dorm's past, Brian Avery, a fourth-year in the college who had previously lived in the house, said it was too early to tell. "That's something I could answer a lot more easily three weeks from now."

Avery said that toward the end of spring quarter last year, former Breckies in the area threw a party for their then-graduating former housemates, adding that a Breckinridge graduate came all the way from New York to attend the celebration.

"That was the first time I realized the degree to which the Breck community was so unique and tight-knit."

On the topic of identity, James Beatty, a first-year Breckinridge resident, joked,

"It's an existential crisis." He also maintained that "when you're as beautiful as we are, people expect more of you."

Nicole Beckmamann, also a first-year Breckinridge resident, echoed Beatty's sentiments. "I'd have to say we're a fairly good-looking dorm."

Breckinridge was first opened in the 1920s "as a residence for single women who had a reason to come to the city and didn't have a residence to live in," explained Callow-Wright. The University acquired Breckinridge from a nonprofit organization called the Eleanor House, and the building was officially opened as a dorm in 1967.

"The demand for housing has grown in the last couple of years. Returning students have chosen to return to housing at a higher rate than they did four years ago. We used to have more singles in Pierce. We turned them back into doubles…We're exceeding ideal capacity right now," said Callow-Wright. "We have always been able to house anyone who wanted to live on campus…although there have been years when we've had to be very creative about that, since we're run out of space."

This factor, in addition to the ever-growing size of first-year classes, led to the decision to reopen Breckinridge.

Callow-Wright said that this year there are 2620 beds in the house system, which traditionally has served 60% of the student body.

"On opening day, we had 12 unassigned places," she said. She explained that the Housing Office is still in the process of compiling exact statistics, as "there are always a certain number of people who don't show up."

Sherry Gutman, deputy dean of students for housing and dining services, explained that the housing office is in preliminary stages of planning a new residence hall. Right now, she said, the housing office is looking for an architectural firm that can do a programming and feasibility study on various potential sites for the residence hall.

"Construction in the city of Chicago can sometimes take a long time," she said. "Our goal is to open a new dorm in the fall of 2007."

What is living in Breckinridge like these days? "[There are] lots of libertarians, actually," said Beatty. "It's very weird." He added that there are lots of industrial size refrigerators in the kitchen. "They're just ginormous," he said.