For 15 students at the Harding Centre, the historic building provides their first taste of dormitory life.

But there are no RAs or rowdy parties, just a tall building in the heart of downtown where a small group of students are beginning their college careers.

Fiona Muyo, one of The Ohio State University-Marion students in the building, said she is happy with her off-campus apartment.

“I love it,” said the Cincinnati-area native, sitting in her loft-style living space. “People are nice in Marion.”

Muyo is one of 15 college students living at the Harding Centre in downtown Marion. She is majoring in chemical engineering at OSUM. She said she likes the OSUM campus and is enjoying her classes so far. Her small, loft-style apartment definitely belongs to a Buckeyes fan, as she has a big OSU flag on the wall and was wearing an OSU hoodie during our interview.

She said living on her own will help her prepare for adult life.

“I chose not to do that (live on main campus) because if you want to experience living by yourself, try living in an apartment if you can,” she said. “Go out where you don’t know anyone and try to experience that.”

Kate Fisher, general manager at the Harding Centre, said is important to have a college presence downtown.

“They (the students) have all been great additions,” she said, joking that she has seen a lot of local pizza boxes around the apartment.

Brooke Newcomer and Katelyn Bixler, who are originally from Toledo, are at the Harding Centre for a few months. Their apartment, with a bunk bed and plenty of OSU decorations, feels like a dorm room — but it has a kitchen, bathroom and living room, which they probably won’t have when they switch to the Columbus campus.

They said they spend most of their time studying or hanging out with other students in the apartment building. They shop close to campus on Ohio 95, and say they are looking forward to trying out local restaurants.

OSUM dean Greg Rose said the student housing will be a good recruiting tool for the college and offers more of a “full college experience.”

“One of the things that has stood in the way for students that are at a greater distance than our typical region is the fact that we don’t have housing,” he said. “(Housing is) critical to serving more students who might want to come here and might want to enroll as Ohio State students.”

OSUM has fewer than 1,300 students, and MTC has around 2,700. If more students come in from out of town, Rose said, they could boost the local economy.

Another option on the way

The Harding Centre won’t be the only housing choice for students soon. Annex Student Living prepares to offer student housing across Mount Vernon Avenue from campus of OSUM and Marion Technical College.

Groundbreaking for Annex of Marion will take place at the beginning of October, said Rob Martinson, Annex Student Living vice president of development. Annex of Marion will have 192 beds — 54 units consisting of 12 two-bedroom, one-bath units, and 42 four-bedroom, two-bath units. The apartment complex will be on a 3-acre property along University Drive, just north of the Marion County Juvenile Detention Center.

Martinson said his company is “finalizing details in closing the transaction” to purchase the land where Annex of Marion will stand. He has said his company’s analysis indicates 250 to 275 Marion Campus students are interested in housing.

Rose said OSUM’s student judicial board can extend into the off-campus housing options. If students have “out-of-classroom behavioral issues,” he said, the college could still punish them.

“It’s the same in Columbus,” he said, “the student judicial extends past High Street, for example.”

Students buy more than Top Ramen

This year, marketing research group re:fuel estimated that the 21 million college students in the USA will spend $163 billion on food, entertainment, clothes, transportation and other discretionary purchases. So, students who go to OSUM and MTC pack a lot of purchasing power.

And if they spend their money in town, more money stays local. Independent retailers and restaurants keep three times more revenue in the local economy than national-chain competitors (52.3 cents total per dollar vs. 15.8 cents), USA TODAY reported in August.

Muyo, Newcomer and Bixler all say they shop for groceries at Wal-Mart or Kroger, close to campus.

With more “feet on the street,” Fisher said, the students at the Harding Centre help add an OSUM presence in the downtown area.

“It’s good to have students downtown and have a variety of people,” she said.

“We can have everyone here. It works out very well.”

mrotunojoh@gannett.com