Hot Market Report: Student Housing


Steve Harms

Why is the Market so Hot?

The private “off campus” student housing market has been a growing market throughout the U.S. recently. After the great recession in 2008, many people decided to further their education and either stay in school longer or return to school from the workplace. As a result of this and the lower tuition and convenient ability for students to transfer from them to four-year universities, two-year community colleges and technical schools have seen a boom that may be peaking now.

The increases in student population has created an increasing demand for housing at all types of higher education institutions – two-year, four-year, and technical. Reasons for the increase in housing needs are diverse and include an increase in overall student attendance, students’ desire to have a “normal college experience,” more students choosing to attend smaller colleges with appropriate courses of study that may be more than 30-60 minutes from home, and students deciding to attend the same institution as their group of friends.

The need to replace aging dorms at many colleges and universities across the country that were built in the 60’s and 70’s is also a major contributor to the growth of new student housing facilities. Not only are there many old facilities that have outlived their useful life, they no longer meet modern student needs. The previously popular layout that included hallways of dorm rooms with a centralized bathroom does not give the students the choices in living style available in the private market. Some schools want the flexibility in occupying floors or partial floors and keeping male / female separation. In contrast, apartment and suite-style unit designs give them that flexibility to occupy as close to 100% as possible.

Public-Private Partnerships

Many institutions are using the private market to replace or build new housing since many taxing jurisdictions have no borrowing capacity given their financial status. This allows the “public-private partnership” concept to accomplish a school’s housing goals and reduce their costs by having outside entities provide, maintain, and operate the housing component.

At Tri-North, we have been involved in both new construction and conversions of existing housing in the past 6 – 7 years. As one example, we converted a 1965 private suite-style dorm to 260 apartment-style beds in a variety of configurations – mostly studio, one- and two-bedroom units, and a few three-bedroom units. The renovation was constructed in three phases over the course of a year and half. It resulted in a 95% occupancy rate after the first two phases, with the remaining 17 units achieving occupancy after the following semester. The lender attained 104% of the value they desired with a combination of reasonable construction costs and high occupancy that met the market.

Market-Driven Design for Success

What we have found is that thoroughly studying the specific demands of any given market is of utmost importance to the success of student housing projects. In the case of the aforementioned project sample, in addition to a stellar location (within one block of a Division 1 university), the main market trigger that contributed to this project’s success was that the design of the facility included all private bedrooms, which continues to be a market trend. The majority of the units in this example were configured as studios and one-bedroom units with small but, full-feature kitchens and in-unit laundry facilities. By far, in-unit laundry was the most-desired feature in this market. The apartments with in-unit washer-dryers sold out within a week in all three phases. The building also features highly demanded amenities like a fitness center, large and small study spaces, free coffee in the lobby, a large TV with gaming, and PC and printer stations.

The industry is strongly trending toward smaller units and rooms, with socialization space migrating to the common areas. Our colleagues at the 2016 National Apartment Association Student Housing Conference in Chicago, IL verified this trend. Today’s students place high importance on large, common gathering spaces for study, social activities, and entertainment along with private rooms that are separate from these larger spaces.

Our experience over the last 30 years shows that larger units with common space included in them promote more in-unit parties, which unfortunately often results in damage and undesirable/unsafe activities. For those same reasons, we also avoid balconies in student living. In addition, for projects in northern climates, those balconies are not used for more than 3-4 weeks out of every school year; therefore, the cost benefit ratio is simply not there. We’ve applied these market-driven trends to new developments—the latest being a 120-bed, three-story facility that is privately owned on the campus of the University of Wisconsin-Fond du Lac, which will be opening in the fall of 2017.

Market Forecast

For the coming years, we do see a slight decline in the Division 1 school market that has been built to capacity or, in some areas, significantly overbuilt. The University of Wisconsin-Madison is a prime example of an overbuilt market where newer properties are at 75-90% occupancy, rather than the targeted rate of 90-96%. Where we see persistent growth is in two-year school locations, many of which have never had housing associated with the school at all.

Our research indicates that the students who can drive 20 to 45 minutes to classes find it inconvenient during days when there might be 2-4 hours between classes with no private space to study, eat, and relax. There is also a draw for students who live outside of the commuter range but within 4-5 hours of a particular school that may provide them a better option for their course of study. Two-year campuses typically cost almost half of the tuition of the four-year university; therefore, even with additional housing costs, they provide a more reasonable avenue for the “full college experience” that continues to be a desire for today’s students. There is also a growing market of international students who plan to attend two-year institutions before transferring to four-year universities.

We believe that the impact of offering students opportunities to decrease their costs in the first two years of their education will continue to promote market sector growth for the near future.

Want to Learn More?

Contact Steve Harms at or 608.271.8717 for more information on student housing market trends and Tri-North’s projects.

Merry Christmas

Last year, the Tri-North helper elves performed a special rendition of Oh Christmas Tree with the help of a crane. This year, a certain elf left his post on the shelf to keep an eye on our team before reporting to the boss.

We here at Tri-North wish you all a safe and happy holiday season! Enjoy the 2016 Christmas video!



Tequila for Tatas


By Erika Cleaver

What do you think of when you hear the words “breast cancer?” Do you think of October because it is Breast Cancer Awareness Month? Do you think of pink ribbons? Chemotherapy and radiation? Survivors? Fighters?

I know what I think of, or rather, who I think of. I think of Ann. I think of Cheryl. I think of Maggie.

I think about the wonderful memories, time spent laughing together, holidays and birthdays celebrated with one another. I think about how much they are now missed—by their spouses, children, family, and friends.


Breast cancer is a terrible ordeal. Anyone that has known or loved someone affected by breast cancer knows it. There is suffering both physically and mentally. Preparing for the worst and hoping for the best. Fighting against your own body; trying all different sorts of treatments to extend precious time. Getting sick—really sick—from the treatments.  Wanting to fight, followed by wanting to give up.  It is hell.

With the help of many friends, family, and co-workers, I have been raising awareness and fundraising for breast cancer research and support for six years now. It all started when a dear family friend, Ann, was diagnosed with breast cancer.

Ann Finnessy

Ann was like a second mother to me growing up. When she was diagnosed with breast cancer, I wanted to do anything I could to show her that she was supported. We had bake sales and sold lots and lots of pink shirts. She fought cancer’s butt like a champ and we thought she had won. She went into remission!

That is, she went into remission until 2015 when her cancer came back with a vengeance.

We learned on November 18th, 2015 that Ann’s cancer was back. This time, it was Stage 4, inoperable. It metastasized and had spread everywhere—to her bones, liver, lungs, and lymphatic system. The doctors gave her 6 months to live.  Ann’s oldest daughter promptly moved up her wedding as soon as they’d received the terrible news. Ann hung on as long as she could, but ended up passing the morning of the wedding—only 17 days later.  She passed on her daughter’s wedding day. Can you imagine the pain and mixed emotions? There are no words to really describe a situation like this.  Unbelievable sorrow. Heartbreak. Profound sadness.

Cheryl Eisner

Cheryl’s battle with cancer was much shorter, but equally tragic.  Cheryl found out she had cancer in October of 2013. After a long diagnosis process, she learned she had a rare and aggressive form—triple-negative breast cancer, meaning it was estrogen receptor-negative, progesterone receptor-negative, and HER2-negative. When they discovered the cancer, it had already metastasized into her liver and many other parts of her body (stage 4) and the doctors couldn’t figure out where it had started from.  She went through several rounds of chemotherapy, but the cancer had already metastasized too far throughout her body.

Cheryl was fighting hard to attend her son’s wedding which was approaching in May of 2014.  She found out she had cancer October of 2013, was officially diagnosed January of 2014, and passed away May 18, 2014. Her son Kyle was married the weekend after the funeral. One of the things that sticks out in my mind the most from the funeral is something they had shared from Cheryl’s time getting chemo. Cheryl was such a positive person and very intent on attending Kyle’s wedding. Her personality was infectious and other women at her Chemo clinic started changing their appointments just so that they could get Chemo at the same time at Cheryl. That’s exactly how she was—everyone wanted to be around her. She was taken far too soon and is missed dearly.

Maggie Younggren

Maggie was larger than life. It only took a few minutes in her presence before you felt like you were one of her oldest and dearest friends. Maggie was diagnosed with breast cancer in November 2013. She went through the treatments that many do, fought hard for almost a year, and was given a clean bill of health the summer of 2014. Less than a year later, she was told that her cancer had metastasized to her liver. The diagnosis for metastatic breast cancer is terminal; there is no cure. The most they can do is hope to prolong your life through treatments and trials. Maggie fought every single day for as long as she could because she truly believed that every day matters. Sadly, she passed in August 2016, leaving a huge hole in so many lives, especially those of her young girls and her husband. She was 40 years old.

There are countless stories similar to these three.

So, I continue to spread awareness and fundraise in honor of Ann, Cheryl, Maggie and so many others in hopes that no one, no family, will have to endure a situation like this again.

Tequila for Tatas

In 2015, Tri-North began a new fundraiser called “Tequila for Tatas.” In our first year, we raised just over $1,800 for an amazing organization called METAvivor. METAvivor is such an important organization because they focus specifically on metastatic breast cancer. While 30% of all breast cancer will metastasize, only 2% of research funding currently goes to metastatic breast cancer. METAvivor seeks to change that. The way they see it, if 30% of cases metastasize, 30% of funding should be going to research metastatic breast cancer.

Tequila for Tatas was such a huge success last year that we’re turning it into an annual event. Together, we will spread awareness, get the support and research needed for those affected by metastatic breast cancer, and eventually find a cure. We hope you can join us on Wednesday, October 26th. A minimum donation of $25 will get you two hand-crafted margaritas, delicious appetizers provided by Pasqual’s, and great conversation. Please join us for this fun fiesta for a fantastic cause.

To register for Tequila for Tatas, please visit or email

For more information about METAvivor, please visit



From Young Professional to Lifetime Achievement: Tri-North Team Members Voted Industry Newsmakers!

From Young Professional to Lifetime Achievement: Tri-North Team Members Voted Industry Newsmakers!

What an honor! Tri-North was just awarded two 2016 Newsmakers of the Year Awards by Daily Reporter.  President & CEO, Tom Thayer and Senior Project Manager, Jared McDaniel will both be recognized at the Daily Reporter Newsmakers of the Year awards ceremony on Wednesday, October 19th at The Garage at Harley Davidson in Milwaukee, WI. We wholeheartedly agree with these selections. Congratulations to Tom and Jared on these well-deserved awards.

Jared McDaniel – Rising Young Professional

Jared graduated Magna Cum Laude with a near perfect GPA from Bradley University with a B.S. in Construction. Before and throughout college, he worked in the industry wherever he could – in his family’s hardware store and summer internships at Valley Construction Company and Walsh Construction Company. At Walsh, Jared progressed from intern, to project engineer, to assistant project manager quickly. Always assigned to incredibly complex, large projects since his early days as an intern, in his eight short years since graduation, he has impressively worked on a total of well over half a billion dollars in contracts.

Jared joined the Tri-North team in 2015 and immediately began working on one of Tri-North’s highly complex projects – The Corners of Brookfield. Tri-North began pre-construction efforts on the projects a full five years before Jared was brought into the mix, but he jumped in like he was made for the job and has been instrumental in keeping it moving in the right direction despite challenges from day one.

In addition to his challenging work, Jared is incredibly dedicated to Tri-North’s community-building and charitable efforts. He is also a devoted husband and soon-to-be father who somehow found time to train for and complete the Ironman Wisconsin in September.

Jared’s short term goal is laser-focused: to finish The Corners of Brookfield on time and under budget. Beyond that, he hopes to help Tri-North grow and continue taking on larger projects. Ultimately, he sees himself being in a position of negotiating deals, running numbers to see how to best make the use of owners’ budgets, and strengthening partnerships with repeat clients who are serial builders.

Tom Thayer – Lifetime Achievement

In 1981, Tom Thayer and two of his friends, Joe Donnino, and Donald Jones founded Tri-North Builders, Inc. They had five employees, a humble 700 square foot building, and a lot of vision. One year in, their total sales reached $1 million and the rest, as they say, is history. Tom became president of Tri-North in 1995. Under his leadership, the 1990’s were an intensely prosperous decade for the company, with sales growing from $25 million to $100 million. Tri-North quickly grew a national presence and began expanding staff and eventually opened offices in Milwaukee, Texas, California, and New Hampshire.  In 1996, Tri-North became employee-owned, an effort Tom spearheaded. Ten years later, Tri-North moved to a state-of-the art, LEED® Gold-certified headquarters in 2006 (only the second building in the state of Wisconsin to have achieved such a high rating at the time), something that Tom often notes as the highlight of his career.

Throughout his tireless efforts to bring Tri-North to success, Tom has maintained an unwavering commitment not only to his clients and objectives, but also to his community. Tom is a longtime supporter of United Cerebral Palsy of Greater Dane County, Urban League of Greater Madison, and Variety-The Children’s Charity of Wisconsin, to name a few organizations.

To Tom, extending compassion to his employees is central to his dedication to giving back to his community. In addition to offering a generous benefits package and competitive wages, Tom has spent his career ensuring that the company’s culture is focused on family. Efforts have included an onsite daycare for employees’ children, substantial PTO, and a concerted and consistent respect and understanding that members of the Tri-North team are not just employees, but human beings with families and other commitments and concerns.

In spite of the challenges in his 40 years in the industry, Tom loves his work and plans to continue leading Tri-North for years. He’s proud to have his son and daughter working alongside him and his four beloved grandchildren nearby (two are currently in the onsite daycare and two are in local elementary schools). As he begins to look forward to retirement, he plans to slowly reduce his workload to spend time traveling with his wife (Tri-North’s CFO), water-skiing, and enjoying his collection of antique vehicles.

Throughout Tri-North’s entire history, through times of major growth and deeply challenging times, one thing has remained constant—Tom’s leadership. His vision and thoughtfulness is apparent. He deliberates over tough decisions earnestly. When quick decisions are necessary, he has impeccable instincts. He leaves his door open. He’s available. For someone with his level of experience and success, you’d expect him to be intimidating. Much to the contrary, Tom is one of the most approachable people in the company. He listens. He’s generous. With or without his pile of richly-deserved accolades, he’s the best in the business. His employees know it, his clients know it, and most importantly to him, his family knows it.




Tri-North Recognized by AGC of Wisconsin with Two 2016 Build Wisconsin Awards


Fitchburg, WI – Tri-North Builders, Inc, was just awarded two 2016 BUILD Wisconsin Awards by the Associated General Contractors (AGC) of Wisconsin.

“We are honored be selected by AGC as BUILD Wisconsin award recipients again this year,” said Tom Thayer, President & CEO of Tri-North. “I am extremely proud of our team’s hard work and the partnerships we have strengthened across the state this year,” he added.

Tri-North will be recognized at the AGC Build Wisconsin Awards ceremony on Thursday, October 13, 2016 at Sentryworld in Stevens Point, WI for the following:

  • UW Health—Cottage Grove Clinic (Cottage Grove, WI) in the “General Contractor – Commercial Projects – New Construction” category
  • Robert Thayer, Tri-North’s Vice President, Marketing, for the Horizon Award

About UW Health—Cottage Grove Clinic

Tri-North partnered with Flad Architects to provide design-build services for this new ground-up clinic which significantly expands the space and services provided from the previous clinic. The state-of-the-art new facility’s patient-centric design separates the front of the clinic from the back which allows the team to work in closer proximity and in private spaces, thereby promoting better team communications and efficiency. The primary care clinic features 15 dual-access exam rooms, two treatment rooms, an x-ray room, and a lab.

The separation of the front of the clinic from the back is a new operational model that supports Lean and efficient operations in addition to a distinctively collaborative team environment for staff and enhanced patient privacy. The solution of dual-access exam rooms with patient entry from the public corridor and caregiver entry from the collaborative team space allows privacy and autonomy for both spaces. In this way, caregivers are able to collaborate efficiently in a team environment without disrupting the patient or the patient’s privacy. Simultaneously, patients have a comfortable environment separate from the clinical space.

In addition to the design of the building, another innovative tactic that our team was proud to utilize on this project was an original panelized wall system on both the exterior and interior of the clinic that brought costs down while meeting project objectives. Working closely with Wisconsin Building Supply, the project team developed a custom wall panel solution that was specifically manufactured in the shop for this clinic.

About Robert Thayer

In his ten years in the industry, Robert Thayer has made it his mission to promote the construction industry, build industry relationships, promote future positive contributions to the industry, and enhance the image of the industry. In particular, Robert is passionate about leveraging technology and online media to connect with the community clients, prospects, and partners. His early integration of drone technology three years ago has kept Tri-North on the cutting edge of new developments as one of the first construction companies in Wisconsin to be 100% compliant with FAA regulations.

Over the last few years, Robert has concentrated heavily on proactive strategies to combat the significant labor shortage in the construction industry throughout Wisconsin. To that end, he was part of the team that originally conceived of the idea behind Kids Building Wisconsin (KBW). KBW is a 501(c)(3) dedicated to getting kids interested in the construction industry through a free annual community event and associated outreach. Robert has been an active board member and the logistical coordinator for the event since the organization’s founding.

At the annual event, kids are able to experience firsthand numerous exciting careers in the industry by participating in dozens of hands-on exhibits run by local trades and industry professionals. Though his involvement in KBW over the last three years has been one of the highlights of his career, which incorporates several of his passions (event planning and promotion, community-building, education, advertising, graphic design, videography, and social media), Robert said, “the best part of the event is simply watching the kids having fun, exploring, and getting interested in our amazing industry every year.”

For more information on Kids Building Wisconsin, visit


Tri-North Steppers: Part One


Tri-North Steppers: Part One by Thomas Thayer

Something new is afoot (pun intended) here at Tri-North this month. We’re in the middle of an elective step competition among our team members. Our goal is simple: to be more active. Yes, even in the construction industry, plenty of us could use a little extra motivation to get up and move more!

Why Steps?

The benefits of walking are well-documented and numerous. In terms of physical health, it’s often called a “miracle drug” because of its positive effects on basically every health condition and research-proven ability to actually prolong life. Walking can help maintain a healthy weight, improve circulation, prevent or manage various conditions such as high blood pressure and heart disease, strengthen bones and muscles, improve balance, and even protect vision throughout aging.

As if that’s not enough, studies have also shown amazing benefits of walking on mental health.  An amazing mood-lifter, regular walking can improve depression, calm stress, improve sleep, heighten creativity and problem-solving abilities, and in general, help to clear one’s mind. The icing on the cake is that people who walk regularly (wearing sunscreen) often look younger than their age.

We chose a step competition for the reasons above, but also because walking does not require any special equipment. And not only does it cost nothing more than a pair of sneakers, it can actually save individuals money long term in healthcare costs.

What We’re Doing

We split all participants up into teams. Each team elected a captain responsible for tracking the team’s daily step totals and reporting weekly step totals. We also extended the challenge to spouses and significant others to further encourage participation. Steps are counted with our new Tri-North pedometers which we provided to all participants.


We’ve set a weekly step goal that increases each week. Any individuals who meet the weekly step goals are entered into a weekly drawing for great prizes like last week’s $250 gift card to J. Crew (one of Tri-North’s clients). At the end of the competition, the team with the most steps over the course of the challenge will win the grand prize. Additionally, the individual with the most steps throughout the challenge will also win a prize.

What We Know So Far

We just wrapped up our second week of the competition, and already it’s clear that the challenge and group effort is encouraging our team members to be more active. We saw an 11% increase in this week’s numbers versus the first week’s totals. That amounted to a 664,986 total step increase across all teams, or roughly 330 more miles in our second week than our first! Tri-North Project Controller, Mindy Twilegar, says, “Our step competition was the push I needed to be more active and start walking more. The weekly raffle prizes and team accountability are great motivation for me to meet the weekly step goals!”

Stay tuned for “Tri-North Steppers: Part Two” where we’ll announce review our program and reveal our total steps!



Combating Workforce Shortage with Fun


Combating Workforce Shortage with Fun by: Patrick Stern

In construction, engineering, and design, we have a problem.

Since the Great Recession ended, there has been a sharp uptick in the volume of work for every segment of the industry. But that uptick has been severely limited by the shortage of skilled labor. Roofers aren’t able to take on more work, and many projects aren’t able to meet deadlines strictly from a lack of labor.

Some studies indicate that there is a roughly 5% lower contribution to the national GDP from construction than under typical conditions because of worker shortages in every region in the nation. Many made the decision to retire during the recession and precious few entered skilled trades during those hard years.  Many states, counties, and labor organizations have launched programs for high schoolers and young adults, but every program aimed at kids shut down.

We decided to buck that trend and formed Kids Building Wisconsin, a non-profit aimed at getting kids interested in construction. With the help of our industry partners, we launched an annual event to show kids and parents firsthand what it is that we do. If we can get kids to have fun while seeing what kinds of opportunities there are out there and what they have to learn to get there, we’re doing our part to help the industry and destigmatize the idea of working in skilled labor.

Now in its third year, with over 2,000 kids a year coming to our event, over 40 sponsors and, over two dozen hands on exhibits, we feel like we’re cracking into something real and beneficial for the industry. It’s a soft sell, to show how we have high job satisfaction, good benefits and pay, but most importantly, that we have fun doing what it is that we do.

And maybe, just maybe, the effort of everyone who has helped to shape our event into a success for three years now will see a benefit for their workforces ten years from now. It’s the kind of long term commitment and community care that our industry generates. And it’s just the start. We’ll be rolling out more and more programs as our efforts gain ground. Just keep watching and watch what we do. It’s going to be fun.


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