The Maroon on Friday October 17 reported that the housing office is considering closing the Shoreland as an undergraduate dorm, to be replaced by a newly constructed dorm south of the Midway. I was shocked to read of this possibility. I cannot emphasize too strongly how regrettable such a decision would be.
I lived in the Shoreland during my years at the U of C, and I enjoyed the experience enough that I stayed there all four years (unusual in itself when compared to most student housing experiences). It was and is the nicest dorm I have ever set foot in, seen, or heard of, at this school or any other.
Fifteen years later, I still speak fondly of it, earning disbelieving reactions from other people whose concepts of dorm life are more conventional and far more disappointing. What other dorm offers spacious, carpeted apartments; private kitchens and baths; and views of the lake? Vintage architecture, a magnificent mezzanine and lobby, cozy lounges, and study rooms overlooking a landscaped courtyard? Perhaps most dorms have a billiards-and-video-game room, like the Shoreland, but how many have a ballroom? And if it's a shuttle ride or a few minutes' extra walk to the quads, that's more than a fair trade-off for being so much closer to Hyde Park's shopping and dining, to the lake and the Point, and to the express buses running downtown. Indeed, fifteen years later, it remains my favorite place I've ever lived.
The Maroon article describes the decision-in-progress as being strongly influenced by the need to invest up to $50 million in maintenance and renovation on the building. It also mentions that the University has no plans to sell or destroy the building, given its status as a National Historic Landmark, and it might instead be converted to faculty housing or private apartments. Thus, it seems apparent that the costs will be incurred no matter what the building's future use. Not only is that rationale inadequate, to me it seems positively counterproductive. A student living in the Shoreland is a part of three communities at once: the Shoreland community, self-contained, lively, and cohesive in a way few dorms achieve; the University community, with its intellectual ferment and rich traditions; and the larger urban community of the city of Chicago, from which so many University students are needlessly cut off. No newly built, campus-focused dorm could be an adequate substitute. In the Shoreland, the University has something distinctive and precious, befitting its own unique status in American undergraduate education. To close it down, to willfully surrender what is arguably the best undergraduate dorm in the country, would be an irreplaceable loss and a tragic mistake.