After a long awaited summer away from Tulane’s bustling ambience, many returning students stepped onto the school grounds with only one excitement on their minds: the promise of two new and improved sophomore dorms. These dorms were set to replace the longstanding buildings of Phelps and Irby, living spaces that many reminiscent juniors now claim to be “irreplaceable” (though the countless horror stories say otherwise). Despite the fact that the majority of building took place during the 2022-2023 school year, prospective sophomores were unable to enter anywhere near the construction zone or gain even the smallest peek of their future residence during that time. However, this did not stop the rumor mill from spinning. Conversation was buzzing last April and May as Tulanians raved about a plethora of possible additions. Some of these far-fetched gossips included a Starbucks, a full-on restaurant, a dream palace cinema, and a gaming arcade. Now as we enter into October with campus in full swing, I believe there is only one pressing question that must be addressed. Have these new installations truly lived up to the hype?
The new establishments, Lake and River Residence Hall, are positioned identically side by side and located along McAlister Way (between Freret and Willow streets). Each building is composed of seven stories with single and double suite-style rooms, two central elevators, and various academic/social spaces. The two buildings are connected by an outdoor courtyard, which features simplistic chairs for lounging, tables for academic work, and of course an abundance of lush green plants and shrubbery. Interior design details include modern windows, luxury vinyl tile floors, vibrant orange and teal colored furniture, and sleek light fixtures at every turn. As someone who spent my freshman year in Monroe Hall, one of Tulane’s most iconic (yet honestly terrifying) freshman dorms, stepping into River for the first time quite literally felt like walking into the Four Seasons downtown. After living here for two months now I wouldn’t confidently say the space resembles that of a five star hotel, but it’s certainly been refreshing to walk down hallways that don’t contain molding carpet or unknowingly trudge into communal bathrooms that sit submerged in an inch of murky water. So now that we’ve covered enough about the new state of the art design, it feels only fitting to touch on the many perks and amenities one will find in these structures.
One of the most talked-about additions to these dorms is the kitchen, which lies tucked away in the back of Floor 2. The area features two large marble island countertops, a mammoth-size fridge, and two shiny ovens. The kitchen has quickly become a space of community for residents in both Lake and River, providing a perfect place to whip up a pan of gooey cinnamon rolls on a rough Sunday morning or a batch of late night cookies after stumbling back from a classic night out. On a more disappointing note, the promise of a majestic movie theater did not necessarily exceed expectations. However, each floor does contain a small lounge area with a couch and its own mini television. It might not be grand, but my suitemates and I have personally loved using this space on weeknights to settle down with a few bags of microwave popcorn and flip on HBO’s “Succession” or Alix Earle’s engrossing weekly podcast. Carrying on, although the fantasy of a first floor Starbucks or gourmet restaurant proved to be a disappointing fluke, the speculation of an arcade was not far off. The ground floor of Lake has become home to a new 14,000 square foot collaboration and gaming area that goes by the name of “The Hub.” I’ve not spent much time in the Hub myself, but the large foosball tables and colossal pool tables that sit in the front window appear to be a chill space of recreation for many. The Hub also features a massive built-in, flat screen television that shows everything from ESPN’s popular sporting events to mainstream news. In this large maze of a building you will also find private study rooms, comfy booths, and a 200-seat theater hall that serves as a new popular class location for many. Earlier this year Tulane announced that The Hub is only the “first wave” of installations in a much larger project they call “The Village.” Tulane President Michael A Fitts claims that The Village will be “the largest capital investment in Tulane’s history” – though the full timeline and vision for its creation is currently unknown. I would assume that I will despairingly no longer be a Tulane student by the time the project is finalized, but it certainly is something I look forward to watching develop.
All in all, I would say these establishments have exceeded the expectations of many. It would definitely be deceiving to say they are perfect, but the overall chatter on campus has been positive thus far. This time last year, many prospective sophomores were mourning the impending loss of Phelps and Irby, feeling as though no new installations would truly replace their unforgettable and nostalgic presence on campus. Many students idolized Phelps and Irby for their unique layouts, seeing that dorms were composed of four double suite-style rooms, all interconnected by a large bathroom where students were notorious for hosting an array of events, parties, and social gatherings. One of the most enticing aspects of these former dorms had to be their wrap-around balconies, where students could be observed enjoying precious time basking in lawn chairs or just vibing to music. Although our new dorms don’t offer living situations that accommodate eight roommates connected by a mega-bathroom, or a balcony space to tan on a Friday after finishing class, there is truly not much that they don’t contain. I can certainly say that being a part of the first class to experience living here has been nothing short of exciting, and I am already looking forward to hosting visitors in my living space, discovering new nooks to curl up in, and calling these dorms home for the rest of my sophomore year.