Bowles Hall Foundation to sell bonds to cover renovation costs

Ethan Epstein/Staff

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The private Bowles Hall Foundation will sell several million dollars’ worth of bonds in May to cover the costs of renovating Bowles Hall, currently a campus-run residence hall.

The board plans to sell $40 million worth of bonds in May, around the same time that it formally signs on with the project’s underwriter, financial services company Raymond James — which specializes in privatized student housing — and with the foundation’s chosen developer. The bonds are being used to pay for the building’s first renovation, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

The Bowles Hall Foundation plans on paying back the bonds over the next 35 years with money from payments for room and board, according to Bob Sayles, a member of the Bowles Hall Foundation leadership team who graduated from UC Berkeley in 1952.

“In the bond market, this is not a large bond sale,” Sayles said.

The privatization of Bowles Hall is the culmination of work by a group of Bowles Hall alumni to return the hall to its origins as a residential college. The Bowles Hall Foundation was recently created by the Bowles Hall Alumni Association, which was founded in 2005. Sayles is the president of the alumni association.

Despite the transition from public to private management, Bowles Hall faculty, staff and residents will still have ties to the campus. Residents will be attending UC Berkeley, staff will include UC Berkeley graduate students, and the dean will be an active faculty member with part of “his or her teaching time bought out,” said Daniel Melia, a campus associate professor and future Bowles Hall housemaster. The foundation is still deciding whether or not to hire Cal Dining Services as its catering service.

In contrast to a university-run residential college such as those at Harvard or Yale universities, Melia will not report to school administration but to the private Bowles Hall board of directors.

The privatization of Bowles Hall leaves a hole in UC Berkeley campus housing — a loss of 192 beds, according to Student Affairs spokesperson Adam Ratliff. To stanch the loss, the campus is adding extra beds to pre-existing rooms, recouping 172 bed spaces and converting rooms into triples and quads.

Bowles Hall was opened in 1929 as the first residential college in the United States, based on a model used at Oxford and Cambridge. In a residential college building, students live, eat, plan social activities and meet with in-house faculty.

The foundation is working with the campus to hammer out details in weekly conference calls. Along with the the board, the underwriter and the developer, Sayles said, they are joined by representatives from campus finance and real estate.

“The most important thing at this point in time is that (the new Bowles Hall is) absolutely aligned with the chancellors’ goal to improve the undergraduate experience at Berkeley,” Sayles said. “We just happened to start on it before Chancellor (Nicholas) Dirks arrived.”

Sayles cited the board’s range of professions involved with the campus or real estate — including UC Berkeley faculty members, Bowles Hall alumni and a former employee of PricewaterhouseCoopers with hotel experience — as qualifications for the board’s takeover of Bowles Hall.

Deborah Golder, a member of the board who is the dean of residential education at Stanford University, hopes that in addition to the Bowles Hall Alumni Association’s goal of allowing current hall residents to network with hall alumni, future Bowles Hall faculty will “be able to leverage their community relationship in a different kind of way” and bring in their campus colleagues.

The Bowles Hall community will temporarily shift to the Berk, at the intersection of Arch Street and Hearst Avenue, as the Bowles Hall Phoenix Program. Phoenix students will be responsible for shaping what the social structure of the new residential college will look like before the community returns to the historic building in 2016. Starting in fall, Bowles Hall will be co-ed for the first time in its history.

Contact Anna Sturla at [email protected].