BY TOM DALTON
---- — SALEM — While there are still concerns about the impact of a new residence hall on surrounding neighborhoods, Salem State University officials were generally praised last night for reducing the size of a $53 million dorm project.
“You got the message, and I want to compliment you,” Ward 7 City Councilor Joe O’Keefe said to Salem State President Patricia Meservey, who attended a meeting last night of the Salem State University Neighborhood Advisory Committee.
“I think we’ve addressed the primary concern,” said Ward 5 Councilor Josh Turiel, referring to the university’s decision to reduce a section of the residence hall closest to Loring Avenue homes from five stories to four.
At the start of the meeting, Meservey said the university has been listening to neighbors and tried to respond.
“We did hear the concerns coming from the neighbors,” she said. “Having heard those ... we felt it was important to reconsider the design.”
The loss of a floor means the new dorm on Salem State’s central campus will house 354 students, which is almost 60 fewer than was originally planned.
Even a resident spoke up for the college, which had been criticized at earlier meetings for not addressing a number of issues that come with putting more students on campus.
Recalling the days when the central campus was a Sylvania plant, Leonette Strout said the addition of residence halls and a business school is a big improvement.
“We could do a lot worse with state property — it’s not a prison,” she said, drawing laughter from a crowd of 50 people at the Enterprise Center.
“This is amazing ...I say embrace it...” she said.
Architects unveiled a new model of the residence hall, which will be located near Loring Avenue about where the campus police station and a parking lot are now.
The building will include a coffee shop and a lounge where students can congregate.
Along with the praise came a number of concerns, including parking, pedestrian safety, the proximity of the dorm to five homes along Loring Avenue, and the lack of park and recreational areas for students, which some felt may force them to wander into area parks at all hours.
Councilor-at-large Arthur Sargent urged college officials to address the small “quality of life issues” that make a big difference in residents’ lives.
He suggested putting up a basketball hoop, benches and even an area for students to smoke.
“It’s much better to have a small area to smoke on campus than to put it on the neighbors,” Sargent said.
Others expressed hope that more students living in residence halls will mean fewer residing in apartments near the campus.
“We’re taking 350 students out of surrounding neighborhoods and sticking them in the campus,” said Turiel. “That will ease some of the problems we have.”
Construction is scheduled to begin in April and be largely completed in about 14 months. The new residence hall is set to open in September 2015.
Work is already underway on the central campus to relocate utility lines.
Tom Dalton can be reached at email@example.com.