A rendering of the proposed housing project. Courtesy of UMass Boston

University of Massachusetts Boston is hoping to expand beyond its commuter-school status with the official start of construction on the college’s first-ever dormitory on Thursday.

The student housing complex is expected to offer 1,077 beds for first-year students by the fall 2018 semester.

Students at UMass Boston, the third-largest campus of the five-campus University of Massachusetts system, currently commute or live in nearby apartments that the university helps them find.

Chancellor Keith Motley said that even though UMass Boston is thought of as a commuter school, he’s heard a strong demand from students for a dorm on campus.


“Students from Dorchester would still like to live out that college experience in a residence,” he said. “But we also have become attractive beyond the great city of Boston.”

More than 2,000 students attend UMass Boston on international visas, according to the school’s website. There are 12,700 undergraduate students at UMass Boston.

Beyond giving those students more options when they may not want to lease an apartment in the city, an on-campus environment would help all students,Motley said.

“What makes this exciting for me is all the data about students living in close proximity to campus — when you’re engaged not only in the life of campus but with faculty and others in a different kind of way, when you put more hours into that life, you perform better in the classroom,” he said.

The school’s survey found that 70 percent of students would opt to live in on-campus housing, Motley said. Rather than worry most commuter students won’t fill those beds, he said he expects there to be a wait list.

The student housing development will span 260,000 square feet and offer students more than a place to sleep. It will be two buildings, ranging from seven to 12 stories, and include “living-learning” amenities like seminar rooms, study lounges and a 23,000-square-foot dining hall.

All those amenities come with a hefty price tag: The housing complex is a $120 million project. UMass Boston is currently struggling with a $26 million budget deficit — prompting Motley to send a letter this month announcing “the current need for substantial deficit reductions” — but the university said it will accrue no debt from the project.

Construction is being financed through a public-private partnership. The UMass Building Authority has contracted with Capstone Development Partners to lease a portion of the campus to construct the housing complex.

It’s being financed with tax-exempt bonds issued by MassDevelopment, “the state’s quasi-public finance and development authority,” according to a news release from the university.

“When we were founded years ago, our founders talked about not only standing with the city but producing a public option for students that was equal to or better than private education options in a great higher education system like Boston,” Motley said. “This is building on that founding promise.”

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