Maryland College Students Take to Floating Dorm
ST. MARY’S CITY, Md. — Kimberly Fitzgerald, a freshman at St. Mary’s College of Maryland here, loves it when people ask where she lives.
“It’s a good story to tell,” she said. That is because Ms. Fitzgerald and 239 schoolmates live on a cruise ship that was converted into student housing after an outbreak of mold shut down two dorms on campus. The closing forced students into hotels miles from campus, and Ms. Fitzgerald, 18, stayed in a Holiday Inn that was a 45-minute drive from campus.
College officials searched for a closer and safer alternative, and on the suggestion of an alumnus, moved the students to the ship, the Sea Voyager. Joseph R. Urgo, the college president, said it made sense to use St. Mary’s River, already a subject of research and a source of recreation for the school, to harbor a dormitory.
“We followed up on what we thought was just a lark,” Mr. Urgo said. “But the more we found out about it, the more we looked into it, the more realistic it became.”
Since the 286-foot Sea Voyager docked last Sunday at a city pier just off campus, it has attracted a stream of curious students and visitors to the waterfront, where it towers over the Maryland Dove, a replica of an 87-foot schooner that brought settlers from Europe in the 17th century. After a series of delays, students moved in last week and will complete the semester aboard the ship while crews clean their dormitories on land.
The decision to move the students a second time during midterm exams drew complaints from students and parents concerned about the effect of the disruption on students’ academic performance.
Mr. Urgo acknowledged that the situation had been taxing for the students, who are freshmen and sophomores.
“The whole idea of a residential college is you don’t have to worry about where you live and where your next meal is coming from. You just study,” Mr. Urgo said. “And this has sort of interrupted that a little bit.”
But many of the displaced students seemed excited about the chance to live on a cruise ship, and some students who had not been affected tried to get rooms on the floating dormitory.
The ship’s gift shop has been converted to an office for residence officials, the ballroom functions as a social lounge, and the pub as a coffee shop.
Ms. Fitzgerald said she had to explain that the ship was not the luxury liner described in some news reports. Space is tight and she has had to send most of her belongings back home.
“It’s not super-extravagant,” she said, “but it works.”
And there are perks. The crew replaces linens and towels twice a week and provides laundry service. Students share a bathroom with their roommates instead of an entire floor of co-eds.
Then, there is the view.
“Oh, my gosh!” said Caitlin Whiteis, 18, a freshman from Olney, Md. The room she shares with Alison Horvat on the second floor overlooks the river. “The sunset is right out of our window, and it’s amazing.”
They are members of a class that another freshman, Katie Hough, has labeled “The Natural Disaster Class of 2015.”
The freshmen rode out Hurricane Irene during orientation and were then confronted by the mold that officials said flourished because of excessive moisture that built up around ventilation pipes in the wake of the storm.
Inconvenience or opportunity, the phenomenon of the floating dormitory will be short-lived. The students move out when the semester ends in December and return to their old dormitories in January.
“I’m not excited to move again,” Ms. Horvat said.
“I’m trying to embrace the fact that I live on a cruise ship.”
Would You Dorm On A Cruise Ship?