A first look at Flathead Valley Community College’s student housing

By: David Koel
6 July 2017

Kalispell’s Flathead Valley Community College turns 50 in 2017.

With its inaugural classes held in fall 1967, Flathead Valley Community College (FVCC) of Kalispell, MT, has partnered with CTA on designing its first-ever student housing — kind of a big deal! The units will be highly efficient, but also user-friendly and attractive to more than just students. As construction nears completion, it seems an ideal time to take a look at what will make this facility unique.

Firstly, FVCC will market and rent the apartments to the general public in the summer months, to increase revenue versus allowing them to sit idly for three months. This approach has affected the siting as well — the building is highly visible from the main entry and main highway thoroughfare, as opposed to buried in the campus. It’s also located adjacent to a nearby shopping center for convenient access to food, services, and more.

The school initially considered a truly commercial mixed-use approach, with retail on the first floor and apartments above. Over time, the idea became less appealing because the approach didn’t match FVCC’s mission and business model; yet the spirit of that approach seems to have affected the project design, as it relates to retail at the nearby outer edge of campus.

It’s been fun in the design phase to think about “simplicity” in the units themselves. We worked very hard to create single units that have precisely half the dimensions of double units, so we could shuffle them around the plan like game pieces until we had the best overall layout. The resultant plans are ridiculously simple — no weird angles, no hallways. Every inch has been allocated for a purpose.

We played with windows in a different way as well, and landed on splitting the living room window into two, one at each corner, and ganging that with the adjacent room window. The result was a functional solution that will allow a feature (probably a TV) to occupy the center of the room, with the glass framing it — as opposed to the usual move-in question of “Where is my TV supposed to go?”

We studied scale and massing, and while it was determined that a consistent three-story approach was most efficient, it was not appropriate to the campus scale. As a result, we decided it was best to “mass up” the buildings slowly from one to three stories, and the result is a pleasant interplay of varying scales of apartment pods.

Materially and formally, the school wanted the building to harmonize with the university, but not feel as “institutional.”  The materials are an offshoot of the campus but with more detail, and while the buildings do feel FVCC-ish, the fact the single-story mass has a tall standing seam pitched roof is a tip of the hat to straight-up residential design, marking it uniquely home-like.

Some additional features:

  • Competitive rental cost and free parking
  • Security features, easy to monitor entries, and all stairs and corridors to be internal
  • Free wireless internet provided throughout the complex
  • Apartment-style living, 2-3 stories, a variety of (24) single- and (50) double-bedroom units (124 beds total)
  • Anticipation of future demand, with an easy way to add more units
  • Interior and exterior common areas provided as a place for community
  • Study and meeting areas to provide a retreat for group or solo assignment completion
  • All units will pre-furnished
  • Multiple common laundry rooms
  • Kitchen units to have a refrigerator, electric stove, microwave, and dishwasher
  • All current ADA codes will be met
  • Good pathways to campus and walking bike paths
  • Close to the academic core but not in it; just steps to class
  • Aesthetic to match the existing campus but with a residential feel
  • Energy radiant heat HVAC system to include adaptable AC units for summer students and rentals
  • Durable quality materials and finishes, easy to maintain and service
  • Acoustics addressed between each of the units

Flathead Valley Community College’s student housing is slated to open for student occupancy for the fall 2017 term, corresponding with FVCC’s 50-year anniversary.

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