A constant flow of cars, vans and pickups circled the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga campus Thursday as students and parents parked to unload plastic bins and boxes and carry them into dorm rooms.
A couple of blocks from campus, more students and their parents parked at the Chattanooga Choo-Choo hotel and walked across the main lobby area to a long table with UTC's name. They, too, were there to move into student housing, but their dorms will be hotel rooms.
The demand for student housing at UTC exceeds the supply, said Steven Hood, assistant vice chancellor for student housing.
For the last four years, some UTC students have been housed in area hotels for at least part of the fall semester. As of Thursday, about 170 students were expected to move into the Choo-Choo, compared with about 2,900 into campus housing, according to Hood.
School officials expect a record fall enrollment of about 2,250 freshmen, UTC spokeswoman Cindy Carroll said in an email.
Jessica Sage, 18, moved into Guerry Apartments on the south end of the campus. Though sharing a room was not her first choice, she said it's much better than having to commute from the hotel every day.
"I would have to suck it up," said the freshman history major. "But I wouldn't like it."
To house more students, the school added beds to some dorm rooms, including turning some single-bed studios in the Decosimo Apartments to two-bed apartments.
Hood said putting students in a hotel is only a short-term situation. Some students who signed up for student housing will inevitably be "no-shows" who decide to go to another college or to live off campus.
Students in the hotel are placed on a waiting list and moved into UTC housing when it becomes available.
"Last year, we had the last student out of the hotel by Oct. 5, give or take a few days," he said. It may be later this year, he added, and because of the high numbers, some may live in the hotel for the entire semester.
Lucuia Grimes, 18, drove with her family from Jackson, Tenn., on Thursday morning, only to be told about 10 a.m. that her room at the Choo-Choo wouldn't be ready until 1 p.m.
"I would rather she be in a dorm but as long as she is placed somewhere," said her mother, Alicia Ozier, as they waited in the hotel lobby.
Lucuia said she would rather live on campus and is afraid of missing some of the college experience, but hopes the displacement will be temporary.
Hood said students in the hotel rooms pay $3,075 per semester for housing, the same price as a four-bedroom, two-bathroom dorm room in UTC's South Campus.
But while campus housing might include a small kitchen, more closet room and more space, those in the hotel are limited to one desk, one bathroom and not much closet space.
Students do have a shuttle to take them to school, housekeeping services and discounted rates in the hotel's restaurants.
Why take more students than the university has room for?
Hood said some simply couldn't secure off-campus housing. And because the university knows there will be some no-shows, "we know there's going to be space that becomes available."
Hood said that for fall 2012, a remodeled Stagmaier Hall will reopen with 145 new beds.
He said the school is working on a comprehensive housing master plan that includes building additional housing.
The owners of a Kanku's gas station on Central Avenue near the UTC campus recently said they want to build apartments for students on property along McCallie and Central avenues across from the store.