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Westminster hotel puts up students displaced by construction on dorms


Alana Reynolds-Hicks hoped rising to the ranks of a college sophomore would grant her certain perks befitting an upperclassman. Like bringing her car on campus. And not having to live in an all-female dorm. And maybe even getting a better choice of classes.

The 19-year-old from Silver Spring never guessed she'd also be living in a hotel room with maid service, air conditioning and a landscaped pool overlooking a gazebo and a lush golf course.

"Somebody else makes our beds and takes out the trash," Reynolds-Hicks said as she surveyed the dark red wing chairs, gas fireplace and beige tapestry sofa Thursday in the lobby of the Best Western Hotel and Conference Center in Westminster.

Reynolds-Hicks, who goes to Western Maryland College, said she was "excited at first" to be among the 20 students the college put up at the hotel because of construction delays at two of its student residences. Now she says she misses dorm life.

"I just go back to my room after class," said Reynolds-Hicks, who has lived at the hotel for a week. "Now I know how commuters feel."

The students, who arrived at Western Maryland between Aug. 21 and Aug. 27, will stay a few weeks at the hotel, which is owned by the college.

This is the first time the small, private liberal arts college has had to put up students at a hotel because it did not have enough room on campus, said Scott Kane, assistant dean of student affairs.

"More upperclassmen want to live on campus," Kane said. "This is where the action is."

When classes began Monday, 1,203 students wanted campus housing. The school's capacity is about 1,150, Kane said. A high student-retention rate and large freshman class are also factors in the crowding at the school, where 80 percent of students live on campus.

Instead of cinder-block walls covered with photo collages and twin beds heaped with cloud-print comforters, the 20 students at the hotel are living in cream-colored rooms with botanical prints, coordinated wallpaper borders and double beds.

"A hotel is better than a dorm room," said 20-year-old Viatcheslav Arzamastsev, an economics major from Yekaterinburg in central Russia. "I like the service here. I like the rooms here. I like the beds here."

Even though much of his floor, bureau and desk was covered with clothing, management and price theory textbooks, and a box of Rice Krispies Treats, Arzamastsev said he didn't mind the cramped surroundings. "My bed is enough like a desk," he said.

The hotel doesn't offer room service, but students get a complimentary breakfast of juice, coffee, cereal and breakfast pastries.

"No pizza," said Thierry Bompard, the hotel's general manager.

Rooms at the Best Western cost from $69 for those with two double beds to $175 for the Presidential Suite, which has a king-size bed and a whirlpool bath. The college is paying $48 a night for each of the 12 rooms where its students live. Because the students will have kitchens in their dorms and some didn't sign up for the meal plan, the college is providing campus meal plans while they are at the hotel.

But staying at the hotel has its drawbacks.

"There's no easy Internet access," Kane said. "And they don't have the college telephone system."

Rebecca Sawyer likes how the housekeeping staff swaddles her white teddy bear in her blanket and leaves it on her bed while she's at class, but she misses her computer, her stapler and her shoes.

"I'm living out of a suitcase," said the 19-year-old sophomore from Chestertown. "My parents are on call to bring the rest of my stuff when my room is ready."

And there's the parking issue.

The 102-room hotel is less than a mile from the campus, which has limited parking. "It's a two-minute drive from the hotel, but you spend 10 minutes looking for a parking space," Kane said.

"None of our friends will come visit us because they don't want to lose their parking spot," Sawyer said.

"I feel so disconnected," complained Tiffaney Gibson, 19, of White Marsh.

When they return to campus, the students will live in houses that are better than your average dorm room.

One of the houses, McDaniel House, is a white Victorian next to the president's house with a front porch and a stained-glass window in one of the bedrooms. It will house 11 students in five double rooms and one single room. The other residence, a yellow house at 139 Pennsylvania Ave., has a new kitchen and large bedrooms, and is wired for cable television. It will house 10 students.

Both houses have washers and dryers. Half of the students at the hotel moved into their permanent residence at 139 Pennsylvania Ave. yesterday. The rest are to move into McDaniel House in a week.

Making the transition from hotel to dorm room may mean a few adjustments for the students, said Kay Glacken, a housekeeper with the college.

If a student leaves a towel on the floor at the Best Western, someone from housekeeping picks it up. If one leaves a towel on the floor at the college, Glacken won't tolerate it.

"I'm going to yell at you," she said.

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