• Former KPN building becomes student palace

    Snooping around

    All 210 rooms in the Frascati International Student House, located in the former KPN building next to the central train station, are already occupied. Even though the plumbing is still a work in progress in the courtyard and the fire escape isn’t perfectly easy to access, the students are satisfied.

    It’s not hard to find the Frascati house. The striking red letters above the entrance, directly across from the taxi stand, are unmistakable. The courtyard is marked with trenches and piles of sand, a sign that the plumping is still being finished up there. But otherwise, the property is signed, sealed and delivered. After taking a ride in the elevator to the second floor, we bump into Cedric, an upbeat American with Dutch roots. He gives us a tour.

    The broken couch

    SSH, the housing organisation that operates Frascati, has transformed the former office space – which used to be occupied by royal Dutch telecommunications company KPN – into a liveable spot for international students in the past few months. Cedric proudly shows us his living room, where his roommates are busy cooking. The couch is already broken, but that isn’t keeping the students down. ‘It’s always cosy here. This is the biggest common space, so everyone comes here. And look, we’re right next to the balcony of the KPN office’, he says, gesturing out the window. ‘They work 24 hours a day, so if we have a party, we end up talking to them at night from the window.’

    The medical student escorts us to his room, which is 20 meters squared. He pays 450 euros for the space each month. Loads of flags decorate the walls and the floor is littered with white socks. ‘I have a lot of trouble with the construction workers who start working in the courtyard at 5 in the morning. It would have been better if that work had been completed before we moved in’, Cedric says, disappointed. Jolien Stokroos from SSH thinks that Cedric may be exaggerating just how early the workers arrive, but she can sympathize: ‘I can imagine that 8 a.m. may feel like 5 a.m. to a student.’

    After a fleeting glimpse of the toilets and shower, we return to the elevator. While we wait for it to arrive, Cedric shares his concerns about fire safety. ‘There are stairs too, but we can’t access them with our entrance passes. We only have the elevator.’ When we ask SSH about this later, Stokroos denies that the staircase is inaccessible to the residents. ‘The stairs are accessible. A building has to be safe in the event of a fire; otherwise, it wouldn’t be approved of as a living space. But perhaps we could put more effort into informing the students about the emergency escape routes’, Stokroos says.

    Avoiding peak hours

    We make our way across the courtyard to the final location, the bike garage. As of now, it doesn’t have any racks, but Stokroos says they should be delivered by the end of the week. Nearby is a washroom with four washing machines and four dryers. ‘For 210 people, that’s not much. But I try to avoid the peak hours’, Cedric says with a laugh. Then, he points out the mailboxes: ‘The postal workers have to wait until someone opens the door before they can deliver the mail.’ SSH says a couple of days later that the problem has been resolved.

    Cedric sees us out and heads back up to the second floor. Unlike quite a few of his housemates, he will be studying in Groningen for longer than just a few months. Eventually, the future physician plans to move into a room in the city centre. ‘For now, this is fine. It was the easiest option when looking for a room from abroad, even though it’s a bit expensive. But it’s also really sociable – there are plenty of organised activities. Where would I most prefer to end up? Somewhere in the neighbourhood of the UMCG would be nice!’