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Housing company pressured Ga. system to reopen campuses, critics say

Eric Stirgus, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution on

Published in News & Features

ATLANTA -- A letter recently posted online is raising questions about whether the University System of Georgia's reopening plans for the fall semester, which starts Monday on some campuses, is being steered by finances and not the health and safety of its students and employees.

The May 29 letter from a vice president at Corvias, a Rhode Island-based company in a public-private partnership with the state system since 2014, urges Georgia officials not to set limits on how many students can live in some campus housing and points out its financial investment in the arrangement.

"(W)hile the CDC may be of the belief that reducing density in student housing may lower the possibility of infection, we do not believe that requires a reduction in the number of roommates that would typically be permitted in the Phase 1 Student Housing or the number of students that can be housed in a given building," wrote Chris Wilson.

Wilson reminded the University System in the letter that the company secured $548 million to build approximately 6,500 new beds and renovate about 3,500 beds across nine campuses.

Corvias has more contracts with schools in Georgia than any state.

The letter was obtained by Kelly O'Neal, a rising fourth-year Georgia Tech student, who said she received documents through the state's Open Records Act. O'Neal posted the letter and other documents Wednesday on Twitter involving campus reopening plans that were either sent or received by the system's chancellor, Steve Wrigley. The Corvias documents have been shared by many Georgia faculty members, students and parents.

 

The system said the schools, including Georgia State University, made their own decisions concerning housing plans for the upcoming semester and were not pressured to change them by the company.

"Each University System of Georgia institution made its own decisions regarding housing capacity for (the) fall semester," said a statement from the system. "Georgia State University approached system leadership with a plan to reduce housing density for the fall semester and was told it was their decision. The system office performed an analysis to review the impact as we generally do with our housing portfolios. It became apparent to GSU in July that dramatically reduced student demand for housing has resulted in lower density than what was being planned for, and therefore the issue was moot and the proposed plan was not implemented.

At no point did any campus indicate the decisions they made regarding housing capacity were influenced by the concerns raised by Corvias."

Others are not convinced.

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