, Salem, MA

April 18, 2013

Salem State envisions the future

University could acquire Rainbow Terrace, develop Weir property, Canal Street


---- — SALEM — By the year 2040, Salem State University could look a lot different.

The university could acquire Rainbow Terrace, the 136-apartment public housing complex located right between the university’s central and main campuses.

It could build three parking garages — one at the O’Keefe Sports Center and two others on college campuses along Loring Avenue.

It could develop the Weir property, the old industrial site across Loring Avenue that Salem State bought three years ago.

And what about Canal Street? Why couldn’t the university develop that stretch of the busy road between the Weir site and the O’Keefe Center?

Salem State is definitely going to build more residence halls, but how many — two, three, four?

All of those possibilities were laid out last night when consultants hired by the state and college presented a “campus master vision” through 2040 at a meeting of the Salem State University Neighborhood Advisory Committee.

The most controversial “opportunity site” was Rainbow Terrace, which has provided housing for low-income residents and veterans for decades but sits right between Salem State’s two main campuses.

“That would be a really powerful campus environment ...” said Tyler Patrick of Sasaki Associates Inc. of Watertown, the planning consultants.

He noted, however, that acquiring the site would require “delicate negotiations.”

Jim Rose of the South Salem Neighborhood Association pointed out that the Salem Housing Authority recently completed major renovations there and that its acquisition by the college would “be a very difficult pill to swallow. ... From a practical reality, I’m not sure that’s going to happen.”

A college official stressed that Salem State has no current plans to acquire Rainbow Terrace and only asked the consultant to explore all possible expansion sites far into the future.

“They came back to us and said ‘Rainbow Terrace is an opportunity,’” said Beth Bower, chief of staff to Salem State President Patricia Meservey. “That’s where we are — it’s an opportunity.”

The consultants said they are not recommending acquiring Rainbow Terrace, or any other nearby property, just telling the university to “think about it.”

As for more residence halls, Salem State currently is working on plans for a dorm to house 300-350 students. The two tentative sites for that building are the campus police station on the central campus and the parking lot next to Peabody Hall.

But the dorm plans don’t stop there. The college repeatedly has said its goal is to build enough housing for 50 percent of its undergraduates. Currently, almost 2,000 students live on campus and the plan is to increase that number to 3,500, which could mean several more buildings.

However, Bower noted that while demand for college housing is strong now the situation could change in the future.

Another “opportunity site” is across the street — the 4-acre Weir site, which currently is used for offices, shipping and receiving, and storing books for the new library. It was described as a site with strong potential for larger buildings with multiple uses.

The consultants noted that Salem State is approaching its parking limits.

“In an urban context, that often can mean a parking structure, and that’s something we’re looking at,” Patrick said.

After hearing the “conceptual” plans, several neighbors expressed strong concerns.

“It looks like you’re going out rather than looking in,” David Coleman said. “You’re encroaching on the neighborhoods.”

“Does (the university) have to keep growing?” Jack Hoar asked. “You keep making things bigger and better to attract more students and you don’t have space to handle it.”

“I have no problem with kids living on campus. ... It makes it easier for them,” neighbor Stephanie Eugenio said. “But it makes it harder for people who live here.”

Tom Dalton can be reached at