SALEM — Salem State University’s South Campus is destined to be sold. To who and for what purpose is not yet known, but South Salem residents have some very clear ideas of what they’d like to see there.

“I put down affordable and veteran housing,” said Mary Anne Silva. “It’s time that Salem looked at purchasing some buildings for themselves to add to their affordable housing. I don’t know how to explain it any better.”

The future of the property, which includes the university’s Harrington building, the Bates Residence Complex and access to the Forest River Conservation Area, was the subject of an open house Monday night.

Salem State University plans to sell the campus as part of a reorganization of its facilities. The state Department of Capital Asset Management and Maintenance, will oversee the sale. 

Led by Boston-based Sasaki Associates, the event pushed attendees to “help envision the future of the South Campus property,” posters at the event read. The event also dovetailed with “Imagine Salem,” a long-term planning effort to improve the city by its 400th anniversary in 2026. 

The event, held in the Harrington building cafeteria, showed the overall site being discussed, surrounding terrain and more. It included a board for attendees to stick paper notes with their ideas to, and an open space where attendees could stand and talk.

“What we’re doing is taking the notes and really trying to develop a community vision statement, so to speak, about what the ideal uses are, but also the sort of principles that community members want to see,” said Tyler Patrick, a principal at Sasaki.

Another round of meetings, which will include broad concepts based on residents’ suggestions, is planned for early December. 

Becky Curran, a South Salem resident, suggested a land swap with Rainbow Terrace to help relocate Housing Authority housing, and to use the property “as a senior life learning campus, like LaSalle College.”

“There’s about 60 of them nationwide, and they’re market rate and affordable — senior housing that is affiliated with the school, and they can take classes,” Curran said. “The elderly population is growing on the North Shore. We need options for all income groups, and this keeps it open and keeps access to the trails, and a low traffic generator.”

Buried in that explanation is one possible scenario, depending on who purchases the property. Today, the site provides the easiest access to the Forest River Conservation Area and its trail network, but some at the event suggested a private developer could cut off access to the woods.

Salem senior planner Tom Devine said protecting trail access is “one of the goals we’re hearing through this process.”

“We’re hoping that can be achieved,” Devine said. “Certainly, there’s a lot of value in maintaining access to the Forest River Conservation Area, and we expect to hear that throughout this process. We hope that DCAMM will consider that.”

The event’s “Program Priorities” board provided the best indication of where the future of the property may go. By event’s end, it was covered in green and yellow notes that called for housing more than anything else. Some called specific attention to veterans and senior housing. 

Others, however, would prefer to have no new construction on the site. Some notes suggested “Conservation should purchase it” to “save the wildlife,” while another argued to “protect the conservation land and don’t build too close to it.”

Nancy Morgan, a South Salem resident, argued that the city should use the buildings that exist today and keep the site as is otherwise.

“It’s only a matter of time before this is underwater with most of Salem,” Morgan said. “People are going to do these things like build all these buildings, and they’ll be usable for 40 years, 50 years, 60 years, and then they won’t be able to access the city. If you’re going to build something here, why don’t you just repurpose the buildings you have?”

Contact Salem reporter Dustin Luca at 978-338-2523 or DLuca@salemnews.com. Follow him on Facebook at facebook.com/dustinluca or on Twitter @DustinLucaSN.

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