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MSU Scales "The Heights"

The largest student-residential project ever constructed in New Jersey formally opens Wednesday.

As a newcomer to college life last year, Kristin Piccinich resided in one of Montclair State University's oldest dormitories at Stone Hall, surrounded by concrete while being forced to share a community bathroom.

For the current sophomore and several other students, the new residential community called The Heights could not have opened fast enough.

“I really like it a lot,” Piccinich said. “It's such an upgrade. I feel like I'm being taken care of. I'm getting what I pay for.”

More than 2,000 students became the first residents of The Heights upon moving in this summer. But the project—one that university President Dr. Susan Cole helped push through the state legislature—wasn't formally dedicated until Wednesday afternoon.

An official ceremony was attended by Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno, who cut the ceremonial red ribbon.

Completed in 14 months, The Heights was the first public-private partnership construction project developed under the New Jersey Economic Stimulus Act. It cost $211 million and required cooperation from folks on both sides of the political fence. But, ultimately, it yielded 568,000 square feet of living quarters and a 24,000-square-foot dining area in what is the largest student-residential project ever constructed in the state.

Moreover, for the first time in recent history, Montclair State did not have to turn double-rooms into triples—or even book students into hotel rooms for a semester. 

“Our students need and our students deserve these type of facilities,” Cole said.

Everyone from Guadagno to Student Government Association President Jared Shababb praised Cole's tenacity for getting The Heights completed in 14 months. Half-kiddingly, Raymond Lesniak (D-Union) said, “The only thing that scares me is Susan Cole.”

In all, The Heights is a series of eight residential halls split into two villages named for distinguished New Jerseyans Anthony M. Dinallo and John Victor Machuga.

The buildings in the northeastern part of the complex, Dinallo Heights, are named for U.S. Marine Sergeant and Purple Heart recipient John Basilone, physicist Albert Einstein, the first African-American teacher in Bergen County Nellie Katherine Morrow Parker, and poet Walt Whitman.

Meanwhile, the residential buildings in the southwest, Machuga Heights, are named for American Red Cross founder Clara Barton, African-American tennis pioneer Althea Gibson, astronomer and physicist William E. Gordon, and former Montclair State and NFL football great Sam Mills.

All are names with Garden State roots, which Cole said she hopes will “inspire our student to fulfill their own potential.”

Mills is also commemorated with a dining facility called Sam's Place, which seats 640 and provides six themed restaurants offering everything from comfort food and international options to old standbys such as pizza and sandwiches.

In the process, Shababb, a senior political science major, said The Heights could help Montclair State in “extinguishing the stigma of a suitcase school.”

Instead of bland concrete and community bathrooms, students in The Heights said their rooms are roomier and applauded the convenience of having to share a lavatory with only one other person.

Said junior Jessica Wayne: “There's more space. And the furniture is nice.”

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