Salem State puts pause on campus redevelopment plans

·3 min read

Jun. 19—SALEM — Salem State University is rethinking its approach to a $60 million redevelopment project of its campuses after it did not receive a funding commitment from the state.

This week, the state's Division for Capital Asset Management and Maintenance (DCAMM) announced its support for five higher-education construction projects, totaling $1.3 million in new spending and $87 million in borrowing to support the efforts. The money targets schools in Danvers, Bridgewater, Buzzards Bay, and Worcester, but not Salem.

The university will have to apply again next year for the funds for "SSU BOLD: A Campus Unification and Modernization Project." But in the meantime, SSU President John Keenan says a portion of the BOLD project will be done now, and then apply for funding for the rest later.

"As we look across the commonwealth, there's almost $5 billion in deferred maintenance" on higher-education campuses, Keenan said. "There is support for this project, and the commonwealth does understand the need to upgrade our labs that are 20th century, modern labs."

First unveiled in October 2019, SSU BOLD seeks to reorient how its programs are spread out on campus, sell South Campus to private developers, rehabilitate the old Horace Mann Laboratory School building, expand Meier Hall to add wet labs for SSU's biology and chemistry programs, and re-tool the Berry Library to create class space.

Keenan said they will seek to move forward now with the sale of South Campus and solicit bids for later this summer. Money from that eventual sale will finance renovations of the Horace Mann building, according to Keenan. The building has been awaiting work after Salem Public Schools moved the Horace Mann Laboratory School to the old Nathaniel Bowditch School building on Willson Street in 2018.

Keenan said the university has a list of 29 developers who are interested in the South Campus property. "When DCAMM puts that RFP out on the street, we'll reach out to them, let them know it's available, and I expect there will be a lot of excitement around that project."

The sale of South Campus is expected to have a big impact in South Salem. The site is 23 acres, and although several parts of the property have too much ledge to easily build on, consultants have said the site could support as many as 250 to 400 homes.

Breaking up the BOLD project proposal could be key to getting state backing next time, Keenan said. The issue comes down to crossing off maintenance needs on campus so the request next time around takes a different scope.

"We understand and appreciate that the commonwealth's motto has been 'fix it first,' so we'd really be talking about fixing Horace Mann," he said. "We have almost $250 million of deferred maintenance on our campus (but) selling and disposing of South Campus eliminates about $80 million of (that)."

The local commitment from DCAMM this week was for North Shore Community College, which was approved for $100,000 in cash and $14.1 million in bonding for a Life Sciences Pathways Center. This would renovate labs at its Danvers campus. Money was also awarded to Bridgewater State University, the Massachusetts Maritime Academy, the UMass Medical School in Worcester, and Quinsigamond Community College, also in Worcester.

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

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