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The College of Idaho Partners with Innovative Local Firm for New Housing

September 27, 2019

With a record influx of new students on campus this fall, The College of Idaho is turning to an innovative Caldwell company to assist with a quick and sustainable housing solution.

The demand for the exceptional academic experience The College of Idaho provides has resulted in a record-setting class of new students, surpassing 400 new students (406 total) for the first time in its 128 year history. This inflow of students has pushed the available on-campus housing to maximum capacity. To come up with a solution that can provide relief to the housing crunch during the current school year, College officials turned to a Caldwell company, indieDwell, that is making national headlines for its unique approach to provide quality, affordable housing from an unexpected source: decommissioned shipping containers.

“The College’s primary goal is to find ways to enhance the student experience,” said Richard Erne, Vice President for Finance and Administration. “This residential housing solution provides an exceptional living space for our students and is consistent with the College’s desire to support sustainability of the environment. Combining these factors with the overall economics, the new housing project fits perfectly into our residential housing program.” The cost per bed of an indieDwell complex is roughly half the cost of a large-scale conventional dorm construction and can be completed in less than half the time.

“The speed to which we can deliver is a very important factor,” said indieDwell Executive Chairman Pete Gombert. “The College had an immediate need and we can deliver that need a lot faster than conventional construction. That was probably one of the early hooks.”

IndieDwell is based in Caldwell and recently made national news when Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Dr. Ben Carson visited the Caldwell location to learn more about the company’s product: quality, healthy, affordable housing made from metal shipping containers. IndieDwell had set up one of its model homes on the National Mall in Washington D.C. during an Innovation Showcase event last June. That’s when HUD Secretary Carson first saw the finished product and wanted to learn more.

Caldwell Mayor Garret Nancolas was with Secretary Carson when he visited the Caldwell plant and views the partnership within his city limits to be one the rest of the country will notice. “We are excited to witness the growth of The College of Idaho and its partnership with indieDwell,” Nancolas said. “The College of Idaho is helping to revolutionize the way on-campus housing is experienced, and we are grateful and delighted for the City of Caldwell to be part of that.”

The idea of building a dormitory out of shipping containers was presented to the College’s Board of Trustees during its May meeting, and most of the board toured the site to get a close look at the product. Gombert estimates there have been more than a dozen tours given to those involved with The College of Idaho dorm project.

One such tour included ASCI President Blake Cowman, who was fascinated that a company like this was located in Caldwell, just blocks away from the College. He was particularly pleased not only with the product produced by indieDwell, but how the company cares for its employees (who are also owners) and the community. “It’s neat that we have a local company here that’s doing these innovative things with these shipping containers, which is also doing it in a way that’s respectful to human welfare and bringing good jobs to our community. And it’s great that we can help support that with our housing project,” he said.

The College demolished previously condemned housing on its campus earlier in August to make room for the new construction, which will consist of two primary three-story structures that will house 27 students each, 54 students total. The plan calls for at least one of the structures to be available by the start of the spring semester in February. Pricing, criteria for student selection, and other details, such as the naming of the new residence hall, will become available as the project gets closer to completion.

Chad Hart, Design Project Manager for NeUdesign Architects in Meridian, which is another local company partnering on the project, says there may be a perception that modular construction appears like “ugly-looking boxes,” but that’s not what people will see when the dorm project is complete. “It’s not going to look like a container on the outside,” Hart said, “it’s going to blend in with the surrounding construction. When this is done, it’s going to mix in rooflines, sidings, colors, and everything your modern construction has today.”

IndieDwell estimates there are roughly 24 million decommissioned shipping containers across the globe. Taking a large metal item that has typically been discarded, but instead, turning it into durable, sustainable housing is of great appeal to an eco-conscious society. “The fact that we are not only taking a product that is going into the waste stream, and upcycling it to something that can be used for a very, very long time, but also the fact that our product, out of the factory, is net-zero ready and very energy efficient was also really appealing,” said Gombert.

Areas of focus that indieDwell identifies to make the buildings energy efficient are three-fold. First, the company builds the units at a level that is 25-percent higher than what code requires. Secondly, the structures are built to minimize any leaking of air and energy through the seams. Thirdly, the units are outfitted with appliances and items that are designed to be energy efficient, such as LED lighting throughout. Said Gombert, “Combine all of those three things, and you are drawing a lot less energy off of the grid than you would with traditional construction.”

Cowman also sees this focus on energy-efficiency aligning with the College’s overall campus goals. “Not only do we spend less on heating and cooling of these dorms, but they are also using less energy, and helping us move more toward the goal that we’ve laid out of eventually being a much more green campus, as we’ve been doing in some of our new buildings such as the library.”

Another defining aspect of the construction that those who live within the dwelling will appreciate is the focus on health. A device called an energy recovery ventilator, generally included in every unit, brings fresh air in from the outside through a HEPA (High-Efficiency Particulate Air) filter and pumps stale air out. Also, all of the products that are placed in the home are CARB-2 compliant, which is the highest standard of indoor air quality in the country.

IndieDwell sold its first housing unit in 2017. The College’s dormitory project is the first time the units will be used for large-scale student housing. The benefit of having housing units built from an inner core of steel should help the longevity of the facility as well. “Our ability to have something that is going to stand the test of time, and the wear and tear that a college student puts on a home, apartment, or dorm, is a critical factor,” Gombert added.

Cowman likes the fact that other college campuses will look to the leadership of the College when considering new housing projects. “This is on the cutting edge of this type of housing. It’s something I’m really excited about, having toured it, and I hope the rest of the students are as excited as I am when they hear more about it and see it for themselves.”

The College of Idaho has a 128-year-old legacy of excellence. The College is known for its outstanding academic programs, winning athletics tradition and history of producing successful graduates, including seven Rhodes Scholars, three governors, and countless business leaders and innovators. Its distinctive PEAK Curriculum challenges students to attain competency in the four knowledge peaks of humanities, natural sciences, social sciences and a professional field—empowering them to earn a major and three minors in four years. The College’s close-knit, residential campus is located in Caldwell, where its proximity both to Boise and to the world-class outdoor activities of southwest Idaho’s mountains and rivers offers unique opportunities for learning beyond the classroom.  For more information, visit