The Rector began the demolition of Linstead hall today, to celebrate the start of work towards the new Eastside building which will be constructed over the next two years. Students arriving at Imperial in October will have little to celebrate however, as the cost of living in halls increases by 8.5% this year. An above-inflation rent increase, extra charges for laundry and an increase in the rental period will all hit students in the pocket to the tune of around £400.
The baseline rent increase per week is around 4.7%, bringing the cheapest en-suite room in Beit to £146.75. Laundry facilities in all halls are being replaced with coin-operated services, which will cost £1.50 per wash, with drying 50p extra on top. For those students wanting to wash clothes at least once a week this would bring the weekly increase to over 5.5%.
A further complication comes from the Easter break being a week longer, meaning hall rents must be paid for 39 weeks rather than 38. Adding this extra week - when many students will be at home and not in halls - brings the cost of the cheapest room available (in Fisher) to £3,492.84 including laundry, while the most expensive en-suite in Beit reaches £6,143. These figures represent increases of 9.2% and 8.5% respectively.
Twin rooms in the new Southside halls reach £6,127.29pa, or £6,068.79 for those willing to take their washing home with them. This is despite the rooms being too small and many of them at the front of Southside having a nice view of portacabins used during the construction of Eastside.
Those unfortunate enough to live in the distant Orient House, run by UNITE, will face a 5.1% baseline increase. College still subsidises Piccadilly Court and Orient House to the tune of around £1m per year, so had little option but to pass on the increase they were charged this year.
There is some good news, with an extension to Garden Hall providing additional cheap(er) accomodation within Princes Gardens. Rooms in Fisher also remain below the £100 mark despite its current refurbishment. For the first time students will be able to choose which hall they would like to live in, meaning those unable to afford the £6k+ for Beit and Southside can opt for a sub-£4k hall such as Wilson House. Whether this results in rich students living right next to the campus and poorer students being forced to move away remains to be seen, but it is a more acceptable proposition than poorer students being forced into heavy debts after being assigned an expensive hall they cannot afford.
All students will still have access to the Ethos gym for free, with those in Prince's Gardens in prime position to take use of the facilities. Live! hopes they do, as hall rents are at their current levels in part to subsidise free gym membership for the whole student body.
The new Eastside development will more than double the number of beds in those halls, moving from 180 in the current building to over 400 in the new one. The gains are made by more efficient use of space and a much wider building, stretching the full length of Prince's Gardens. The new building will include a bar when it is completed in 2009, the design of which has not been finalised - those seeking a Southside-style bar should speak up now!