SALEM — Residents who live near Salem State University raised concerns last night about the problems they face from more students living on campus, with some even contending the college is ignoring them as it readies for the start of construction on its third residence hall in a decade.
“You really have to remember that we breathe and live in the same community, and you just don’t seem to notice us,” Lafayette Street resident Carole Moran said at a joint meeting of the South Salem Neighborhood Association and the Salem State University Neighborhood Advisory Committee attended by about 60 people.
The focus of the meeting, which was held in the new Frederick E. Berry Library/Learning Commons, was the 400-student residence hall about to be built on the central campus. On that same campus, a former Sylvania plant along Loring Avenue, the college opened a 450-bed dorm in 2004 and a 525-bed facility in 2009.
Construction of this new residence hall will start in March and be completed by the fall of 2015, according to Beth Bower, chief of staff to President Patricia Meservey.
“What are you doing to increase the capacity of the college to handle an additional (400) kids who didn’t used to be on campus?” asked neighbor Peter Holtz.
While saying problems in his neighborhood aren’t that serious yet, Holtz said he has noticed more college students hanging out at a park in his neighborhood, sometimes late at night.
“What are you going to do to help us make sure our neighborhoods aren’t impacted by all these kids?” he asked.
The chief issue about the new dorm appears to be its height and proximity to homes along Loring Avenue. Under the current plan, the building, which will be built where the campus police station is now, will have a five-story section near Loring Avenue and a four-story section behind it.
Architects are currently working on revised plans that will be unveiled at a Dec. 3 neighborhood meeting.
City officials are hopeful those plans will show the taller, five-story section farther away from neighbors’ homes.
Dominick Pangallo, an aide to Mayor Kim Driscoll, said the mayor has been in talks with Meservey about this and other building issues. Ward 5 City Councilor Josh Turiel and Ward 7 Councilor Joe O’Keefe also have met with the president.
With construction four months away and little time to make major changes, neighbor Ben Anderson said it “feels like we, the neighbors, are being short-changed.”
One woman asked why the college allows so many students to have cars. “You can’t have that many vehicles in that dense an area — it’s math,” Elizabeth Francis said.
A college official said that many students work and need cars for transportation.
College officials tried to allay several concerns.
Residents were told, for example, that plans are underway to build an 800-car parking garage, which should ease some of the parking crunch.
Tom Torello, vice president of Marketing and Communications, said the added dorm rooms should put more students on campus and move students out of apartments in residential neighborhoods near the college, reducing both parking problems and noise.
Several people raised concerns about the increased pedestrian traffic from residence halls. especially along Loring Avenue, and the potential dangers created by students crossing streets while talking on smartphones and ignoring traffic.
“You should really think about having crossing guards for your kids, because they’re going to get killed,” neighbor Jeff Rougvie said.
Tom Dalton can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.