Washington and Lee planning to house most students on campus

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LEXINGTON, Va. (WDBJ7) In the shadow of the revered ruins of its very first building, Washington and Lee University’s newest construction is reaching completion.

Apartments and multi-unit townhouses that are part of the final stages of the university’s plan to bring most of its roughly 2,000 students into on-campus housing.

“I think we had seen them disperse more and more, and so they were losing out on that sense of community," says Sidney Evans, VP for Student Affairs. "And we heard that from them.”

So that, along with safety concerns sharply illustrated by a fatal car accident in 2013, led to a village like design of upper class housing intended to bring the small school’s community back to the campus.

“We designed this space very intentionally," according to Evans. "The open green space, the ways in which the patios and porches look out on that green space, and we want kids to see each other, to be seen, to come out, play Frisbee, listen to music, go to athletic events.”

But what then of the rental market to those students? Above businesses, in group houses throughout the town of Lexington and out into Rockbridge County, property owners have long been able to count on regular student rentals.

“Now, what we’re seeing is that it is affecting our business, only because it’s opening up a lot more inventory,” according to David Stull of Sterling Properties and Management.

However, though the meager recovery seen in the economy in general is reflected in the real estate market as well, the rental market was propped up by people who had lost their homes in foreclosure.

“For a while there, you couldn’t find rentals. They were scrambling for them," says Joe Vita. Vita is a real estate broker in Lexington, where he works exclusively for buyers, and he watches the market here very closely.

“This came out well in advance, to or three years in advance," he says. "So if you were a property owner, a property manager, you pretty much knew what was coming, and you should prepare for it.”

“So we’ve gone from law students to a different clientele," Stull says. "And I think that’s the adjustment that needs to be made. You know, you just have to change your thinking. That’s all.”