VT Tech students find home in Williston (9/17/09)

Sept. 17, 2009

By Tim Simard

Observer staff

Williston has become the perfect new home for Vermont Technical College student Jordy Fraties. He has a third-floor room with a view overlooking the Champlain Valley and Adirondack mountains. Outside his door is a brand new kitchen, as well as a widescreen television and Wii gaming system. Best of all, the electromechanical engineering student is a few steps from class.


    Observer photo by Tim Simard
Vermont Tech student Jordy Fraties prepares for a class in his new residential housing room. Last year, the college purchased an office building on Helena Drive and converted the third floor into student housing over the summer.

Fraties, a Highgate native, is one of 22 Vermont Tech students living at the college’s Blair Park campus. The new rooms are located on the top floor of a converted office building at 72 Helena Drive, which has become Williston’s first college dormitory.

“It’s like a hotel here,” said Fraties, who also acts as the floor’s resident assistant.

Due to its rapid growth, the college purchased the office building near its Blair Park campus in an effort to expand. The first thing school officials wanted to do was create a small housing area for students who wanted to attend the Williston campus but found the commute too demanding. The rooms booked up well before construction was complete, said Brent Sargent, dean of Vermont Tech’s Williston campus.

Students living in a double room pay $4,650 for the room. Students living in a single room pay $5,888 per year. Those costs come on top of the $9,960 tuition for full-time, in-state students.

The students have only occupied the residential housing for three weeks, but the building’s top floor has already taken on a community feel. On a recent Wednesday afternoon, a bulletin board in the hallway was full of college messages and information. The doors of the 17 rooms — a mix of doubles and singles — were decorated with the names of the residents.

In the student lounge, the couches were arranged facing the television and respiratory therapy student Jenna Aldrich was busy making a quick snack in the lounge’s kitchen. Aldrich, who’s hometown is West Charleston, said the daily commute for her classes would have been around four hours round trip.

“This is so much easier for me to go to school,” Aldrich said.

Since it opened in the fall of 2003, Vermont Tech’s Williston location has always been a commuter satellite school for the college’s main campus in Randolph. When it opened, the Williston location only occupied part of the Blair Park office complex, with 32 students enrolled in four associate degree programs.

Today, Vermont Tech has close to 480 full- and part-time students enrolled in more than 20 degree programs, including engineering and health care-related fields. The college has completely absorbed the 50,000 square-foot office complex at Blair Park and has added the Helena Drive office building.

“We’ve sort of grown into everything here,” Sargent said.

Sargent said the goal for Williston’s campus is to increase to the size of Randolph’s, which has close to 800 students.

Residential housing isn’t the only new addition at the Helena Drive building. The college is also building a fitness room on the first floor and converting the first and second floors into office and classroom space.

Two other tenants remain in the building. Sargent said Williston Mortgage Corporation and Stelletta Salon will stay until their leases expire in two years.

Sargent doesn’t expect Williston’s Vermont Tech campus to grow to the same size as Randolph’s for a few years. The college is looking at other avenues for growth, including the possibility of adding more housing. Vermont Tech has 23 nursing students rooming in the former New England Culinary Institute’s housing facility in Essex Junction. Sargent would like to see those students live closer to campus.

Fraties said the students on his floor have developed a quick bond and enjoy each other’s company. All the college asks is that the students remain respectful to the school and the community. So far, no problems, Sargent said.

With his electromechanical engineering classes demanding much of his attention, Fraties said Vermont Tech keeps him engaged.

“My focus is green energy and whatever I work on, I want it to be environmentally friendly,” Fraties said.

But he doesn’t mind the workload. He foresees Vermont Tech giving him a bright future.