The retrofitted Laperal Apartments aka Youniversity Suites aims to raise the standards of student living
In 2018, then Art Deco Laperal Apartments was refurbished and opened as a residential and recreational building for students. Standing as a vision along Claro M. Recto Highway in Manila, the now Youniversity Suites demonstrates how culture and heritage can be preserved and remembered through the structures and spaces within a city. The building boasts a 14-story co-ed dormitory and a 4-story commercial building that houses food kiosks and restaurants. For two years, residents and guests have delighted in using various areas such as study spaces, student rooms, and the famous LA Village.
With restrictions and new protocols due to the novel coronavirus, how does a building adjust to make ends meet? With the majority of institutions implementing online classes, how do student dorms survive? BluPrint asked one of the owners of the Laperal Apartments or Youniversity Suites about the steps that they are undertaking to keep the building (and the business) alive, how the building has been since its opening, and how Youniversity Suites will continue to uphold cultural and social value.
The Youniversity Suites was fortunate enough to have all its residents move out before the COVID-19 outbreak, so closing down during the Enhanced Community Quarantine was not a problem. When restrictions were eased and MECQ came, the building’s regulations aligned with the quarantine protocols, following the standard temperature checking, provision of alcohol and sanitizers, frequent sanitation of surfaces, and social distancing for workers and employees. He shared that most food businesses are barely surviving and that it is a struggle for food kiosks, stalls, and restaurants to generate income during this time, so the chances of raising sales heavily depend on the number of orders received online. The owner stated that other commercial establishments along Recto are also open, rest assured that they are observing quarantine protocols.
In terms of its own rules and regulations, Youniversity Suites is committed to ensuring the health and safety of the users. “The primary requirement would be swab tests. They (residents) need to have this before boarding,” one of the owners said. He shared that there are no occupants staying inside the building as of now, but they will be ready to accommodate if face-to-face classes resume once quarantine restrictions are eased. To guarantee the safety of all residents, common dining areas are closed at the moment, while a few shared spaces remain open, with the set up configured to maintain social distancing. The owner explained that as a vaccine may come sometime later and the virus will probably still be steady for a few more months, it will be nearly impossible for owners to shut down their businesses, so the most viable option is to adhere to the standards set by health and public officials. “What we do at Youniversity Suites is the bare minimum, we regularly sanitize, perform a daily health check for all those who are coming in, and adhere to the guidelines set by our health and public officials. This pandemic is affecting all of us, and it is our responsibility to respect how each one of us is coping and I guess, for now, what we must do is strive to discipline ourselves and be hygienic as much as possible.”
Raising the standards of student living
Commute, travel, and safety of students play subsequent roles in education. “If your class starts at 8:00 AM, you most likely need to wake up at 6:00 AM because of the heavy traffic. If you live far from your school, you wake up around 5:00 AM, some even earlier. Imagine having to waste your time commuting for a total of at least 4-6 hours every weekday. How will you be able to study?” the Youniversity Suites owner demonstrated, adding that students who live in the province even have to deal with traveling during the weekends. He then cited how several schools in selected foreign countries implement a housing program specifically for freshmen. “What most of them do is encourage, sometimes even require, first-year students to stay in the dormitories or housing provided by the school. Aside from assuring their safety and security, this also fosters camaraderie and develops a student’s social skills. Given that Filipino freshmen are usually new to their educational environment, this is one of the options that institutions here in the Philippines can explore.” He underscored that there is no general way of making student living better as there are many factors to consider, but schools and colleges should try to determine how they can deliver a holistic learning experience for students.
Location is one of the factors that the owner emphasized as he discussed. “I don’t think there is an exact way of how we can improve student dormitories and housing, but I feel like we should start by seeing the realities in the metro.” He furthered that Metro Manila has long been a dense city, and it is not exactly a safe and clean environment. “When you look at the streets, you will see informal settlers, irregulated street vendors, poor garbage collection, and various forms of pollution.” Whether one admits it or not, the things he mentioned are realities that were left to simply exist and were never given enough attention. The bottom line is that living, in general, will not improve unless people strive to enhance their surroundings.
With the ongoing pandemic, everyone is forced to rethink and reevaluate how every individual can contribute to living in a better normal. In the context of Manila, the Youniversity Suites owner expressed that it is never too late to revive or reimagine its original state. “When we decided to refurbish Laperal Building, we had this vision of remembering how Manila used to be. Of course, we will continue to improve the building. We are planning to repaint the facade in December, depending on the schedule of nearby universities and colleges.” While the whole of Manila was locked down in varying stages of quarantine control, the owner shared that Youniversity Suites has not been resting at all. “We have started building and installing wastewater treatment to help safeguard our environment. Although not yet required, this is our way of becoming environmentally compliant.”
Despite the challenges given the current pandemic, Youniversity Suites says that it will “continue and strive to provide a balanced, exciting, and safe environment for everyone alike” and hopefully entice the entire community to bring back the beauty that once belonged exclusively to Old Manila.