Frequently Asked Questions
Brown is constructing a new two-building residence hall for undergraduate students near the southern end of its College Hill campus with buildings of approximately 64,000 and 61,000 square feet, respectively, on the west and east sides of Brook Street between Charlesfield and Power streets in Providence. Together, they will house approximately 353 students. The buildings will feature suites with single rooms and flexible community spaces intended to meet the needs of third- and fourth-year undergraduates at Brown.
As part of revised plans in April and July 2021 that included changes based on feedback from local community members, the project will include a publicly accessible green space and retail space at the southern end of the west building, amenities that are beneficial to the surrounding neighborhood and the Brown community. Brown is also pursuing the construction of a new residence on the northeast corner of Brook and Power streets with the goal of a project that appropriately occupies that corner, holds the residential edge where neighborhood and campus meet, and supports the historical fabric of the street.
Brown is committed to supporting a residential educational experience as a critical component of its academic mission. Building a robust undergraduate residential community with a range of on-campus living options is essential to the Brown undergraduate experience. The primary goals of the Brook Street project include strengthening the living and learning experience for third- and fourth-year undergraduates with spaces designed to meet their needs and enabling Brown to provide enough housing to accommodate all first-, second- and third-year students as part of its six-semester residency requirement.
Another major goal is to alleviate the impact that demand for off-campus rental units has on local neighborhoods in Providence by adding significantly to Brown’s on-campus housing inventory. The local community has expressed clear support for Brown to add significantly to its inventory of on-campus student beds in numerous public meetings held over the past five years. On-campus student housing benefits the community by mitigating challenges that can arise from an increasing number of students living away from Brown. Such concerns include rental price increases, variable quality in rental units, student consideration for neighbors, and graduate students having to move farther from campus to find available housing.
Until this year, Brown’s last major housing project was the Vartan Gregorian Quad constructed in 1991. Though the University has added hundreds of beds since that time, there has not been a new, single-purpose residence hall built in three decades. A housing study completed in 2018 identified the need for more than 400 new beds on campus to meet Brown’s housing requirements for the undergraduate population and to offset the impact on local neighborhoods.
Through the approximately 353 beds in this project and the 162 recently added in Sternlicht Commons, a residence hall attached to the new Health and Wellness Center further north on Brook Street, Brown is adding more than 500 beds in total, addressing undergraduate enrollment growth of approximately 500 students over the last decade and significantly reducing demand for off-campus housing. Together, the two projects will reduce the number of Brown undergraduates living off campus by approximately 30% — and with no plans for significant undergraduate enrollment increases on campus, completion of these projects will mean that Brown will house approximately 80% of undergraduates on campus.
Between the recently completed Sternlicht Commons residence hall and the planned Brook Street residence hall project, Brown will have exceeded its new bed target for undergraduate housing inventory. There is no currently planned growth in undergraduate housing beyond these housing projects.
While the recently completed Sternlicht Commons residence hall and the planned Brook Street residence hall project respond to an increase of approximately 500 undergraduate students over the last decade, they are not a prelude to additional enrollment growth among on-campus undergraduates.
Any foreseeable growth in Brown’s undergraduate population would focus on doing so without substantially increasing the number of undergraduates studying in-person in Providence. For example, a committee recommended recently that Brown explore potential growth through “careful enrollment management and increased participation in study away/experiential learning opportunities” — measures that could increase to a small degree overall undergraduate enrollment, but without growth in the number of students in Providence in any given semester.
The project will result in a net increase in revenue to the City of Providence. Rhode Island’s state-funded Payment in Lieu of Taxes program (PILOT) reimburses cities at 27% of what a nonprofit property would generate if it were subject to municipal taxes — and with the new buildings expected to have a value assessment well beyond that of those on the current site, the project is expected to generate significantly more revenue for the city. The specific amount will be determined based on post-completion appraisal of the buildings. In addition, per Brown’s 2003 memorandum of understanding with the city on voluntary payments, revenue to the city for any parcel that becomes exempt from municipal taxes is frozen at existing levels for five years, so there will be no loss of revenue during construction. Once the project is complete, the new retail space will generate commercial property taxes for the City of Providence.
Brown began sharing plans for the Brook Street residence hall project through a series of community meetings beginning in February 2020. Members of the community had the opportunity to provide feedback on the proposal through 12 public meetings, which included options to submit written and verbal feedback and ask questions of Brown staff and project architects. In addition, Brown’s Office of Government and Community Relations has met privately with local stakeholders and maintained open lines of communication with the community. City-sponsored meetings that included robust public comment include the June 2020 City Plan Commission meeting and the February 2021 Providence Historic District Commission meeting.
Based on extensive community feedback and concerns about building scale, visual transition from the neighborhood to the residence hall site, and overlap with the Providence Historic District, as well as mixed input about a planned retail space, Brown significantly revised its plan in April and again in July 2021 to address a number of these concerns directly.
First, the April 2021 revised plan:
- Measurably reduced the size of the project, reducing the above-ground footprint and overall scale of the western building by 16,000 square feet and stepping down both buildings from five stories to three stories on the southern edge to address concerns about the streetscape
- Eliminated approximately 50 beds from the residence halls, with the new plan providing housing for approximately 355 students
- Increased the setback distance between Power Street and the western building’s southern side to move the structure outside of the Providence Historic District boundary and enable a better transition to the scale of the neighborhood
- Eliminated a planned retail space facing Power Street to address the concerns about the potential for added pedestrian and vehicle traffic expressed by some members of the local community (however, this was later re-assessed after additional input; see below)
- Added publicly accessible green spaces at the southern end of both buildings to enhance the transition from the residence hall to the surrounding community to complement the neighborhood’s scale and respect the historic district (this also was later re-assessed after further community input; see below.
In July 2021, after additional input from neighbors and community organizations, Brown committed to the following adjustments to the April 2021 revised plan:
- Returning a retail space to the west building
- Pursuing the construction of a new residential home on the northeast corner of Brook and Power streets with the goal of a project that is appropriately situated on a corner, holds the residential edge where neighborhood and campus meet, and sustains the historical fabric of the street.
Brown recognizes that there have been a wide variety of perspectives, often conflicting, from local community neighbors. And while the University can’t address every individual concern, project leaders believe the core elements of the project revisions — replacing parking lots with green space, reducing the scale and footprint of the project, increasing setbacks, restoring retail — respond to key community concerns directly.
The Brook Street residence halls have received final approval from the City of Providence. In June 2020, the Providence City Plan Commission approved an amendment to the University’s Institutional Master Plan, enabling Brown to proceed. That approval followed a series of meetings with community stakeholders and neighborhood residents to present details on the proposed project, all of which informed Brown’s plans. The site is located fully within the I-2 Educational Institutional District, and the project conforms with all zoning requirements, including building heights and setbacks. The addition of approximately 353 beds for on-campus student housing also aligns with the city’s housing plan.
While most of the project site is located outside of the Providence Historic District, a small portion of the overall project site at its southern edge — where green space, but no portion of the residence hall buildings will be located — falls within district boundaries. As the design process continues, community members will have opportunities to offer input on the green space.
Together, the two buildings will house approximately 353 students — strengthening the residential experience for those students and helping to alleviate the impact the demand for that number of off-campus rental unit beds currently has on local Providence neighborhoods.
The project scale is based on fulfilling key project goals: (1) strengthening the living and learning experience for third- and fourth-year undergraduates, including seniors seeking to remain on campus beyond Brown’s six-semester residency requirement; and (2) alleviating the impact that the demand for off-campus rental units has on local neighborhoods in Providence by adding significantly to Brown’s on-campus housing inventory.
Through the approximately 353 beds in this project and the 162 recently added in the Sternlicht Commons residence hall further north on Brook Street, Brown is adding more than 500 beds in total, addressing undergraduate enrollment growth of approximately 500 students over the last decade and significantly reducing demand for off-campus housing. Together, the two projects will reduce the number of Brown undergraduates living off-campus by approximately 30% — when both are complete, approximately 80% of all undergraduates will live on the Brown campus.
The project’s siting, massing, setbacks, building materials and rooflines are thoughtful responses to the context set by the local neighborhood and Brown’s adjacent Vartan Gregorian Quad student residence complex. The Brook Street residence halls incorporate subtle massing shifts to break down their scale in relation to the pedestrian experience along Power, Brook and Charlesfield streets. At the southern ends of the site, the buildings step down from five to three stories to continue the scale of the neighboring roofscapes along Power Street. Like many of the surrounding campus buildings, the buildings are made primarily of brick, with expressed moments of texture and detail at windows and corners, along with accents of terracotta and wood. The interior structure comprises cross-laminated timber, which minimizes the environmental impact of the residence hall and gives the interior ceilings a warm materiality visible from the street.
In combination with publicly accessible green space at the southern end of the west building, the layering of building space and landscape will create a natural transition to the sidewalks and streets, addressing the scale of the neighborhood and recognizing the edge of the University’s campus. And building entry points and services are purposefully positioned at the north side to reduce the impact of student foot traffic and vehicular access on local neighbors.
The design team is working to create a project that truly feels accessible in terms of how the buildings meet the ground. That means entries that are visible, a relationship to the street, a layering of landscape and plantings adjacent to the sidewalk, a tree canopy — design aspects that create a sense of vitality and activity that are appropriate to the neighborhood and the University and that will create visual harmony for the pedestrian experience.
To meet the goal of more on-campus housing, the project balances density and scale. The surrounding campus and neighborhood buildings range in height from six stories to three stories. Both residence hall buildings will be five stories at their highest points — smaller than the maximum zoning height permitted at the site, which enables construction of buildings up to six stories. As part of its revised plan to address community concerns, Brown added step-downs on both buildings from five to three stories at their southern ends.
After initially eliminating planned retail space in April 2021 based on community input, the University committed in July 2021 to restoring a retail component to the west building. The retail space will both engage the street and activate the immediately adjacent green space with an amenity that is beneficial to the surrounding neighborhood and the Brown community.
The new green space will be publicly accessible. While the design process is not yet complete, it is intended as a space that will welcome members of both the Brown and Providence communities. The green space will be designed to accommodate a range of activities, from gatherings of small groups to places for quiet contemplation. It will be designed for universal accessibility and will include well-shaded spaces that encourage public use throughout the year, whether programmed or impromptu. The landscape will also provide planted swales and rain gardens that visibly manage stormwater and help meet the University’s long-term sustainability goals.
Brown communicated its plans for the project to all tenants in the early stages of the planning process. The University is working with the City of Providence on plans for relocating the substation.
To enable the creation of a publicly accessible green space on the eastern side of Brook Street, the University purchased 126 Power St., a 0.1-acre historic district property that currently includes a gravel parking lot and multi-family house. Brown will continue to operate and maintain the property as residential space for students and/or faculty. The University will pursue construction of a new residence on the remainder of the parcel, the northeast corner of Brook and Power Streets. There are no plans to demolish the building.
Brown pursued multiple avenues to assess and consider options for the future of the three houses. In evaluating the building site, Brown commissioned a study by an external consultant to evaluate the historical, cultural and architectural significance of each of the existing structures. That analysis confirmed that none of the four buildings is eligible for individual listing in the National Register of Historic Places.
As a next step, the University engaged in extensive efforts to support the potential relocation of the three residential houses that would otherwise be demolished. Brown placed paid advertisements in local media to attract parties interested in buying the houses for $10 each, commissioned 3D video tours of the houses, offered $75,000 per house toward relocation costs, and partnered with the Providence Preservation Society and City Councilman John Goncalves to directly engage with housing-related nonprofits and other individuals who may have been interested in the homes. Unfortunately, while this process prompted interactions with 27 potential buyers, the University received no applications from interested parties.
Moving forward, the Providence Revolving Fund will salvage architecturally significant materials from existing structures. Contractors will begin to mobilize on the site in early fall, with the demolition of existing structures planned for Fall 2021.
Brown is pursuing the construction of a new residential home on the northeast corner of Brook and Power streets (on a current gravel parking area) with the goal of a project that is appropriately situated on that corner; holds the residential edge where neighborhood and campus meet; and supports the historical fabric of the street.
The University had previously assessed moving one of the existing houses on the site for which we have demolition permission to the northeast corner of Brook and Power streets, but doing so is not feasible from a design or financial perspective. The existing houses are all too big and/or designed to face one street. Instead, the site would benefit more from a traditional home designed for this corner in the historic district.
A new residence constructed on that corner in the historic district will require all necessary reviews and approvals, including from the Providence Historic District Commission, and the University is committed to working through those processes with engagement from the community. The University’s intention would be for the home to be owner-occupied, likely through the highly successful Brown to Brown Home Ownership Program, that has sold 20 Brown-owned houses to faculty and staff over the past 10 years.
The residence halls provide an integrated approach to sustainability that will contribute to the University’s campus-wide energy conservation and carbon reduction goals. The all-electric, high-performance buildings — which include a cross-laminated timber structure — will be net zero, 100% offset by Rhode Island-produced solar energy, and meet LEED Silver standards. The landscapes will provide planted swales and rain gardens that visibly manage stormwater and help meet the University’s long-term sustainability goals.
Brown’s project leaders recognize that the extensive revisions made in response to community feedback and the University’s efforts to relocate the three houses will not be seen as sufficient by some neighbors, and that a preferred outcome for some might be a dramatically smaller residence hall or no residence hall on this particular site. While the University appreciates those concerns, plans are to move forward with the revised project, with construction expected to begin in Fall 2021. Brown will continue to plan, design and construct the residence halls in a responsible and respectful manner.
Work to prepare the construction site and utility relocations will occur in Fall 2021, while the Providence Preservation Society salvages architecturally significant materials from the existing structures. Construction contractors will mobilize on the site in the fall, with the demolition of existing structures planned for Fall 2021. Brown expects initial building-construction activity to begin by later in the fall with a target timeline for completion and building occupancy of Brown’s Fall 2023 academic term.
The construction of new on-campus housing will reduce the number of students living off campus in local neighborhoods, resulting in less local traffic and fewer parking issues. Spaces will be provided on Brook Street for drop-offs, pickups and deliveries. The site will include bicycle racks for cyclists. Loading and service activity will be accessed from Charlesfield Street to minimize impact on local neighbors. Small box trucks will primarily service the facility; no tractor-trailers are anticipated.
The proposed development will not include the construction of parking facilities. There are 45 under-utilized existing spaces in the parking lot on the building site’s eastern side. The site is conveniently located on the Brown University shuttle route. There are also nearby high-frequency RIPTA bus lines on Thayer, Brook, Angell and Waterman streets; Brown pays for students, staff and faculty to ride RIPTA buses for free.
The site’s location will provide easy pedestrian access and connectivity to the core of the Brown campus located to the north. Brook Street has sidewalks and pedestrian accommodations, and the sidewalks adjacent to the site will be reconstructed to meet current standards.
Brown requires all of its contractors to conform with city and state regulations governing construction work. Brown’s lead project contractor Dimeo Construction has developed detailed site logistics plans that include noise, dust and other impact prevention and mitigation, as well as strict security protocols.
Please contact Katie Silberman, director of community relations, at email@example.com or 401-863-3717.
For urgent questions after hours, please contact Brown's Department of Public Safety at 401-863-3322.