By TOM GEORGE
ST. MARY'S CITY, Md. (November 6, 2011)—At St. Mary's College of Maryland, students have long been able to rent boats and take classes on boats with world-class sailing instructors. Now, some students get to live on one.
After a mold infestation forced the college to evacuate two of its dorms in October, the college moved students first to off-campus hotels, then changed course and put them in a luxurious cruise ship docked at the waterfront campus.
"I went to La Quinta hotel and then a week later we found out we were going on a boat," sophomore Nicholas Samuels said.
The state-owned college had been paying about $20,000 per day to keep students in local hotels, but the 20-minute drive to the isolated campus was a burden for the relocated students.
So, college administrators used an alumni connection to bring in the Sea Voyager, a 286-foot cruise ship that features a gym, a coffee shop, a dance floor and lounges. The ship pulled in Sunday and more than 200 students began moving in on Tuesday.
Renting the ship cost the college as much as it was paying for hotels—and the boat included a few extra perks. The boat's staff cleans the rooms and washes the students' clothes.
"It's nice because we get fresh towels and we don't have to do them ourselves," said sophomore Elizabeth Smith.
Not every student who was moved out of the mold-infested dorms—Caroline and Prince George halls—got a spot on the boat.
"I kind of wish I was on it instead of a forced triple," said freshman Hannah Sturm, who now lives with two other students in a two-person room in another dorm on campus.
Repairs on the moldy dorms will probably be finished before winter break, said Associate Dean of Students Joanne Goldwater. But the boat will stay docked until the end of the semester to give students time to settle in before moving again.
The unique housing arrangement is not without problems. Right now, a single narrow gangplank provides the only way to get on the ship, though construction workers are building another exit to the dock.
It's also drawn criticism in Historic St. Mary's City, which aims to transplant visitors out of the 21st century. The modern Sea Voyager is docked right next to the Maryland Dove, a replica of the boat that brought some of the first settlers to Maryland.