SALEM — Salem State University is rolling out a "bold" plan for upcoming campus changes.

University President John Keenan announced a new proposal incorporating its larger efforts in the coming years into a single proposal for the state to consider. The proposal, emailed to the campus community Tuesday, is titled "SSU BOLD: A Campus Unification and Modernization Project."

The project incorporates the university's expansion plans at Meier Hall, renovations to the vacant Horace Mann Laboratory building, the sale of "the entire South Campus property" and the addition of four digital classrooms at the Berry Library, according to Keenan's email.

The inspiration behind the proposal comes from the university's attempts since 2017 to get state cash for the science lab expansion at Meier Hall.

"Our project was not funded in that bond bill but was deemed worthy of further investigation," Keenan said. "DCAMM (the state's Division of Capital Asset Management and Maintenance) worked with us to re-envision this project for the next application cycle for the FY21 bond bill in a way that would meet our needs for the sciences but better match the Commonwealth's priorities of investing in and repairing existing buildings."

In the time since, "our physical campus experienced significant change with a building on North Campus becoming vacant following the relocation of the Horace Mann Laboratory School" to the old Nathaniel Bowditch School building on Willson Street, Keenan wrote. "This building, along with the long-term plans detailed in our master vision to divest from South Campus, have led to the crafting of SSU BOLD."

The sale of South Campus will likely have the largest impact on the city, as it ties in an entire campus property changing hands from university control to possibly that of a private developer. That part of the proposal has prompted city officials — not Salem State — to call an open house meeting on the future of the property.

"Knowing that Salem State has made it a priority to consolidate the Central and North campuses, the city is leading this process now to work with stakeholders to determine a long-term vision for South Campus," said Tom Devine, a senior planner in the city's planning department. "The plan would be to come up with a vision that's consistent with community goals."

The open house will be held starting at 7 p.m. Monday, Oct. 28, in the South Campus' Harrington Building cafeteria on Harrison Road.

Construction on Salem State property has been a touchy subject for years, after public attention on the university's use of an assistance corporation to lock up property without going through a public bidding process.

But in this case, Devine said the city is in the driver's seat because of the process future construction on South Campus will follow. 

"The city has full power if it's a private development and there's any kind of zoning change or special permit that needs to be approved by the city," Devine said. "Because Salem State is being a partner with the city and collaborating on this process, the city has a lot of pull to have a good public process we can stand behind that will result in some good alternatives and concepts for the site."

Devine said all ideas for South Campus are on the table. 

"It's open-ended, in the sense that the city wants to have the community goals heard so they can inform the process," Devine said. "But the other task here is to determine future uses that are compatible with the neighborhood and compatible with the city's goals, but also reflect market realities. What will come out of this won't be unfeasible concepts."

A second public meeting is expected sometime in December, after which city officials will "wrap up the process with final high-level reuse concepts around the end of the calendar year," Devine said.

At the same time, Keenan wrote that Salem State will submit SSU BOLD to the state in December, "and we will expect to hear in late spring of 2020 if our proposal will be awarded funding."

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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