WATERVILLE (NEWS CENTER Maine) - Colby College on Thursday unveiled its Alfond Commons, a new 100,000-square-foot student dormitory in downtown Waterville, marking a milestone in the school's efforts to revitalize the community.

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Alfond Commons ribbon cutting

Unseen to the hundreds of onlookers at the ribbon-cutting ceremony is how the new home for 200 upper-classmen students symbolizes a change in the school's culture. With the added space to house students, Colby College has decided to change its housing policy to become "fully residential." In other words, students are no longer permitted to live in off-campus houses or apartments that are not affiliated with the College. This policy comes with a few exceptions. A handful of students have made arguments to live off-campus based on health needs or because they previously signed long-term rental contracts with a landlord. Administrators say those decisions are made on a case-by-case basis.

Dean of the College, Karlene Burrell-McRae, says the College had always had the goal of being "fully residential," but that in an effort to accommodate a rapidly growing student body decades ago, the school had to have students live in non-Colby housing. Now, as the new Alfond Commons opens, the school is no longer experiencing that "housing crunch," and therefore reverting to its old ways.

Burrell-McRae says the goal of being "fully residential" is to bring the Colby community closer together. She says, "With this new residence hall and in thinking about the type of climate we wanted to create for our students—intellectual engagement, different kinds of students coming together, creating a place where people can challenge each other and grow from each other—we really thought it was important to return to the idea of everyone being on campus, or rather, in campus housing, whether it be literally on the campus or in this facility downtown."

The decision has been a controversial one, and students have openly criticized it through the school newspaper, The Colby Echo. In an article published last fall, students called the new policy “misguided,” and said they found off-campus housing beneficial to students because it teaches “real-life responsibilities, like paying bills, taking out the trash, and cooking for yourself.” They also said it could be cheaper, quieter and more relaxing.