High bandwidth access is one of the most sought after amenities for students. But many student housing owners are overwhelmed by attempting to determine the best way to go about ensuring the quality of the technology available at their properties. Student Housing Business interviewed Will Morgan, President of Vestcor Communities, who recently developed The Flats at Kernan, a student housing community in Jacksonville, Florida, to find out how he addressed this issue with fiber optics.
SHB: What inspired the concept of the Flats at Kernan?
Morgan: Frankly, the Flats at Kernan was originally planned to be condominiums for students, but with the market conditions changing in 2007-2008 and the abundance of for-sale product in Jacksonville, we changed our concept to a rental student property.
SHB: What amenities are available at the Flats?
Morgan: The Flats at Kernan is located across the street from the University of North Florida. It consists of 192 units and 480 beds. The property consists of 96 two-bedroom units and 96 three-bedroom units. Kitchens come with all Whirlpool appliances including a smooth-top range, microwave and dishwasher. Furnished units include a fully furnished bedroom, furnished common area and dining area and a 42-inch flat screen TV.
SHB: One of the Flats’ most prominent amenities is its fiber-optic network. What first prompted you into looking into including that in your property?
Morgan: We began our design knowing that we wanted to incorporate the latest and greatest technology infrastructure and service for our student residents. I was in search of something more robust than the standard DSL or broadband service not only from a perspective of bandwidth, but also dependability and customer service. In addition, I was pleasantly surprised that we could get both a superior data product and an expanded video lineup at a competitive price.
SHB: You chose to install a fiber-optic network, what was the process that led to this decision?
Morgan: The company we chose already had a presence in the Jacksonville market. I was able to visit local properties, observe the infrastructure, and understand how the installation would be handled. Research was done and references were checked; it was a thoroughly thought out decision.
SHB: Walk through the preparation and construction of the network. How long did it take? How were you involved with the installation?
Morgan: I was first introduced to the project engineer about six months before going live with our data and video services, so the entire process took about six months from start to finish. Since we also acted as general contractor for this development, I was involved in the entire process, but after Connexion Technologies, the company we partnered with, engineered their infrastructure, the construction team worked mainly with our on-site superintendent and project manager to ensure a smooth installation.
SHB: How much did this network cost to build?
Morgan: Connexion used their capital to build the network.
SHB: Once the network was installed, how did you go about sharing information about this amenity available to students?
Morgan: We definitely list our technology as one of our featured amenities. Flyers, data speed tests, and advertising all increase exposure and educate students about our technology, but word of mouth is probably just as effective as a form of advertising. We also correspond with our residents through e-mail, Facebook, and our property web site to keep them informed of events and news about the property.
SHB: What reaction have you received from students? How do you think their expectations/ reactions regarding the technology differ from other adult apartment dwellers?
Morgan: Students have been very impressed by the data speeds they are experiencing. As with most technology, my expectation was that I would hear more about the problems than about the benefits of the fiber network. However, there has clearly been more positive feedback, which is probably due to not only the data speeds, but also the dependability of the network. Every student resident depends on this technology daily, which may not be the case in a conventional multifamily environment.
SHB: What specific benefits have you seen from adding this amenity? Have sales increased? What about resident retention?
Morgan: We hope that the residents’ favorable impression from the data speeds and video content will lead to an increase in resident retention. We have not reached lease renewals on our first residents, but I am hoping technology will be a difference maker in residents renewing leases as well as prospects signing leases.
SHB: Would you consider adding this amenity in other projects? Why or why not?
Morgan: Yes! In fact, we are adding this technology at our next student housing community currently under construction. We have already increased data speeds using the same fiber technology. Hopefully, this technology will allow for maximum flexibility in improving our service offerings while demand for increased data speeds and more advanced video services grows. SHB: If any of your colleagues were considering adding this amenity, what advice would you give them? What qualities would you tell them to look for in a potential partner? Morgan: While the infrastructure is important to offer fast data speed and expansive video content, customer service is equally important. If residents are having service issues, they want immediate service. They need 24/7 access to a representative who can start troubleshooting the issue remotely and schedule an on-site visit if needed.
SHB: What benefits have you seen in the quality of services available?
Morgan: Faster data speeds, more HD channels, a broader basic channel lineup including music channels.