Concerns over dorm project discussed at Town Hall

MARQUETTE — Discussion of a plan for new dorms and concern about their impact to an outdoor area were a large part of a conversation held at Northern Michigan University Tuesday morning.

NMU President Fritz Erickson held the second of three Town Hall meetings with students, faculty, and staff to discuss what’s happening at the University. One of those happenings is a residence hall replacement plan that would result in new modern dorms at the cost of under half an acre of Outdoor Learning Area used by students in the study of native plants.

“We can go out and borrow some money and do sort of basic fixes — put new windows in, paint the walls, take out the asbestos — and at the end of the day, we’ll spend a lot of money and simply have what we have today, or we can actually spend less money through a public–private partnership, build new, modern, energy efficient facilities that better support our philosophy and our belief in a quality living and learning environment,” said Erickson.

Critics of the proposal said that the removal of a half–acre retention pond in the area would result in closer to 40 percent of the overall learning area being removed. They also voiced concern about parking lot runoff originally retained in that pond being rerouted to municipal storm drains and ultimately Lake Superior.

“Give it some time. You seem to be rushed on this agenda. I think if nothing else, you could do a phased–in approach with the dorms that are there and keep them completely out of that zone,” said Dr. Ronald Sundell, a retired faculty member from the Department of Earth, Environmental and Geographical Sciences. “No one is saying you shouldn’t build new dorms, but what we’re saying is: build the right type of dorm in the right type of place.”

The plan calls for two additional acres of land to be dedicated to the Outdoor Learning Area, and Erickson pointed out that there will be other open areas that the University could use for projects like this in the future. There is still a lot of work to be done before the project is finalized — Erickson said they will know more when they talk it over with the Board of Trustees in a couple weeks.