|By Carol Biliczky, The Akron Beacon
Journal, OhioMcClatchy-Tribune Regional News
November 27, 2009 --Kent State has agreed to spend about $830,000 a year to lease a hotel in downtown Geneva, Switzerland, to house students in a study-abroad program.
KSU President Lester Lefton said the university might lose money on the lease at first, but "the increased costs will be offset by increased participation," he said. "We should turn a profit after three years."
KSU trustees agreed last week to sign a five-year lease with Triad Group Inc., which develops student housing and corporate apartments nationwide and abroad.
The Boston company is purchasing the seven-story Hotel Rousseau in downtown Geneva, renovating it and turning it over to Kent State.
The university aims to pay the rent via income from students who study business and politics in KSU's Geneva program and from other universities that sublease excess beds.
The new facility will offer plenty of room for the KSU program to expand, said Mary Anne Saunders, executive director of Kent's Office of International Programs.
While the program's current home in the aging John Knox Conference Center on the outskirts of Geneva can accommodate only 22 KSU students, the hotel will have 80 beds.
There is more demand for the Geneva program than the university has been able to accommodate, Saunders said. The program has had a waiting list for every semester except the current one, which she chalks up to the recession.
She estimated that perhaps 35 to 40 students will take part when the renovated facility opens next fall semester.
The International University in Geneva has agreed verbally to sublease another 22 beds, and KSU is seeking other universities to sublease the rest, Tim Martin, executive director of KSU administrative and business services, said by e-mail.
"These subleases will help Kent State defer the operating costs of the new facility," Mar tin said.
Currently, KSU's costs are much more moderate. Students now pay their room and board directly to the John Knox Center and a fee to the university to rent classrooms in the facility. The university spends $33,000 a year to lease classrooms.
Even with partner universities to share the lease costs, students will spend more when the new facility opens.
While the per-semester cost at the John Knox Center ranged from $13,482 to $14,617 for Ohio undergraduates, depending on the kind of room, the most modest room in the new location will be about $14,300 per semester.
Rates for all rooms are being determined now, Saunders said.
"It is a lot of money, but they would be paying more than $8,000 anyway" for one semester of room and board at Kent's Ohio campus, she said.
She said the fee is is more reasonable than it may appear because it includes room and board, transportation, insurance and field trips.
If KSU has figured wrong, can't recruit more students for the program or find other universities to sublease beds, it can exit the contract after three years, Saunders said.
Geneva is one of two foreign-study programs KSU offers.
The university also spends about $412,000 a year to rent the top four floors of the five-story, 700-year-old Palazzo dei Cerchi in Florence, Italy, for fashion, architecture and general studies students.
Provost Bob Frank said the university broke even on the Florence lease last year after losing money for the first two years he has been with Kent State.
"We started looking at it more carefully," he said. "It was not as tightly managed as we would have liked."
About 80 students are taking part in the Florence program this semester. The university has leased the Palazzo dei Cerchi for about 20 years, but did not lose money in every year, Frank said.
Carol Biliczky can be reached at 330-996-3729 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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