A new student housing complex near the Columbus Learning Center that gives commuter students a chance to experience a residential college environment is about half full in its first semester in operation.

The $5 million Annex student housing complex on the city’s north side opened with high anticipation in May, with an initial commitment from Cummins Inc. that its interns would lease the beds over the summer in preparation for Columbus students to move in during the fall.

But seven months later, nearing the end of the fall semester for Ivy Tech Community College and IUPUC, just 65 of the Annex’s 112 beds are leased.

Students on the IUPUC and Ivy Tech campuses say they know the Annex exists, but most find it too pricey.

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Annex residents pay $579 per person each month for a two-bedroom apartment or $479 per person for a four-bedroom apartment.

The furnishings are brand new and pristine.

Each apartment has a separate bedroom for the students, with the roommates sharing kitchen and living room areas. The apartments come with a bed frame, mattress, desk, chair, dresser, couch, coffee table, media console, end table and bar stools.

Each bedroom has its own key fob entry system. Units include kitchens with a dishwasher, stove, refrigerator, microwave and breakfast bar. Utilities such as basic cable, Internet, water, sewer and trash are included in the rent fee. Electric utilities are included at a rate of up to $25 per person.

The complex has computer rooms and a fitness center, along with free parking.

A television in the lobby area shows a kaleidoscope of a daytime talk shows. With its carefully planned study areas and laundry rooms, the building is clearly striving to re-create the traditional college dorm experience. But there are no posters on the walls or whiteboards next to the doors, which are commonly found in most university dorms.

What students say

Katrina Evans was the Annex’s first resident. Back in May, the 20-year-old medical assisting major at Ivy Tech decided it was time to move away from her parents’ home in Columbus. The Annex was the first landlord to respond to her application.

“I was looking for a place to stay, and they were the first to say yes,” Evans said.

She has no complaints.

Her kitten is allowed to live with her, and laundry is on site. For Evans, the Annex might even be a deal. When she moved into the building, she was assigned a roommate. But within a few months, her roommate decided to transfer to another apartment with a longtime friend. Ever since, Evans has had a two-bedroom apartment to herself, but her rent has not increased.

“I haven’t heard bad things,” Tracy Ricklefs, a business student at IUPUC, said about the Annex. “But I think that (price) is definitely one of the reasons they’re (the Annex) not reaching capacity.”

Libby Carlile, a student at IUPUC, said she would consider living at the Annex if she decided to move out of her parents’ home. She even knows two current residents and said she has heard positive reports about the apartment complex. But at this point, her main reason for staying home is financial. Staying in the nest for an extra couple of years is substantially cheaper than moving out.

Carlile has a unique perspective on the Annex as part of the IUPUC ambassador program, which assists students during orientation.

“We do present the Annex as an option,” Carlile said.

She said the facility has a lot of amenities, including:

  • Individual leases offer security from deadbeat roommates, for example.
  • Most utilities are included.
  • The location, directly across the street from the Ivy Tech and IUPUC campuses, is ideal.

Price shopping

Bartholomew County Landlord Association president Brad Grayson said he’s surprised at the Annex’s price point.

Grayson said he handles about 50 leases per year. At any one time, he has a vacancy rate of about 10 percent.

“They can shop around and get cheaper,” he said.

Even so, Grayson admits that the Annex does have benefits that are hard to find in other area rentals.

“Most of the students we see in our less-expensive rentals are juggling jobs and kids,” Grayson said. “I don’t think that is the same market.”

Most two-bedroom apartments in the Columbus area cost $650 to $800 per month, according to Apartments.com.

For around the same price per bedroom, two people would each pay that for a 1,000-square-foot two-bedroom, two-bathroom apartment with a patio at Riverstone Apartments. Bloomfield Apartments has a 700-foot apartment for about $200 less than the Annex price.

Occupancy rates vary

Marcy Robles, director of leasing services for the Annex, said the company hopes to increase occupancy from 50 percent to about 90 percent soon.

She works for Milhaus Ventures in managing the Annex properties, which are owned by a real estate development group, Mecca Companies, through its subsidiary Annex Student Housing.

The Annex properties represent only part of the company’s real estate holdings, which also include low-income rentals and houses in Illinois and northern Indiana. Its portfolio also includes subdivision developments across the Midwest.

Robles said Milhaus spent years researching the commuter campus market at its offices in Indianapolis.

Recently, it has doubled down on the idea with nearly identical Annex properties opening near Indiana University Kokomo, Vincennes University and other community campuses across the Midwest. Roble said occupancy rates at these facilities vary widely depending on location and length of existence.

For example, its Ohio facilities all have more than 90 percent of beds filled. The Richmond, Indiana, property near the IU East campus is about 60 percent full.

Robles said she isn’t concerned with the current vacancy rate in Columbus, adding Milhaus’ business model relies on retaining and adding students for as long as they are in college.

“Right now, most of our (Columbus) students are either freshmen or sophomores. We’re hoping that they all return next year, plus new freshmen.”

The Annex in Columbus, at 2333 Poshard Drive, was funded via private equity with additional investments from First Merchants Bank.

Seeing an upside

Student ambivalence toward the project comes as a slight surprise to Sandra Miles, IUPUC director of student affairs. She said the project arose directly out of a petition drive among students on campus.

“(Former IUPUC Chancellor and Dean Marwan) Wafa went full steam on this,” Miles said. “He really pursued this idea.”

Miles said she hopes the project takes off because IUPUC wants students to live in college-oriented communities.

“We want to encourage students to get out on their own before they get married and have kids,” Miles said. “If I had my way, all our students would live near campus. Having like-minded individuals in the same area keeps people on task.”

Ivy Tech spokesman Randy Proffitt said the idea of student housing near commuter campuses makes sense.

“This relationship is awesome,” he said. “If students inquire, we can discuss housing.”

He points to substantial changes in community college demographics.

“History shows that we (students) are getting younger,” Proffitt said.

Compared with the cost of attending major four-year institutions, younger students have been turning to community colleges as a cheaper alternative.

As a result, Proffitt said, these younger students might be looking for a more traditional college lifestyle, including on-campus housing.

Price shopping for apartments

Two-bedroom apartments in Columbus per bedroom

Columbus Village Townhouse: $293 per bedroom ($585 per month)

Canterbury House Apartments: $452 per bedroom ($905 per month)

River Stone Apartments: $538 per person ($1,076 per month)

The Annex of Columbus: $579 per person ($1,150 per month)

The Cole: $695 per person ($1,391 per month)

Varying costs of tuition

Commuter colleges and universities tout affordable tuition. Here is a comparison of residential tuition per semester for 12 credit hours.

Ivy Tech: $1,597.80

IUPUC: $3,151.32

Purdue: $5,001

Indiana University: $5,194