If Penn State Altoona can enroll more students, the community and its economy will benefit, university leaders told Logan Township supervisors Thursday.
But before the school can accept more students, it has to make sure they have a place to live, Penn State Altoona Advisory Board Chairman Mike Irwin said.
Irwin and advisory board Vice Chairman Tom Smith asked supervisors to be supportive of efforts to add student housing, in particular a project proposed by Durbin & Associates for a 400-unit student housing complex at Wehnwood and Grandview roads.
After developer Brian Durbin proposed the project in 2010, supervisors indicated little interest in granting a zoning change so he could pursue construction in that area zoned for single-family houses.
That hasn't changed, supervisors indicated Thursday night before offering alternative housing options for students and asking why Penn State doesn't build more on-campus housing or lease land to a private developer to build on-campus housing.
Supervisor Jim Patterson mentioned Penn State Altoona's land above the Nittany Pointe housing complex. A student housing complex there would contain an increase in traffic to that area, he said.
Irwin said Penn State is not showing interest in those options.
In August 2011, Chancellor Lori Bechtel-Wherry told supervisors that the school had plans to build an addition to Oak Hall that would accommodate 300 more student residents. But that proposed project has yet to be approved, a Penn State spokeswoman said Thursday.
Irwin reminded the supervisors that Durbin & Associates owns additional student housing, including Pennview Suites, which added apartments after securing township approval.
"I think they do a quality job," Irwin said.
Patterson asked about possibly using the former Bon Secours hospital for student housing, and when Irwin referred to its distance from the campus, Patterson said Amtran could accommodate more bus riders.
Gwin Road resident and real estate developer Reynolds Baldwin, who attended the meeting with Irwin and Smith, told supervisors that converting Bon Secours into student housing would be economically impossible because "it's not what kids want" and it's too far away from Penn State Altoona.
Baldwin said collegians are more interested in village-style housing, which explains why the Durbins had a waiting list in September.
Landlord Kerry Weatherbee from the Central Pennsylvania Landlords Association said he and a half dozen other landlords have vacant apartments this year that are usually rented to Penn State Altoona students.
"We're concerned about the lack of students," Weatherbee said.
Supervisors Chairman Frank Meloy said it's not the township's job to do a market analysis of the need for student housing or the type of student housing that's desired.
"Our job is to look at the zoning issue and whether the use of the land is consistent with the area," Meloy said.
Woomer Road resident Naomi Thomas, who has been opposed to additional student housing in her residential area, told supervisors that the responsibility for this issue rests with Penn State.
"The students will bring economic growth here, no matter whether they live on the campus or off the campus," she said.