NMU Board approves controversial student housing project

Published: Apr. 29, 2016 at 9:06 PM EDT
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The planned location of the new residence halls at Northern Michigan University has caused a lot of controversy.

NMU's Gant, Payne, Spalding and Halverson dorms are being demolished to make way for new ones.

The hour allotted for public comment at NMU's Board of Trustees meeting Friday morning was filled with statements against the planned location for new student housing on campus.

The Native Plants and Outdoor Learning Area, where biology, environmental studies and chemistry students conduct field research, will lose 15 percent of its land to the new residence halls.

"It's not new dorms that draw students to this campus," said Ron Sundell, retired NMU professor who helped develop the Native Plant Studies Area. "They're looking for a real good education. We were developing that type of environment right on campus, and now a portion of that will be destroyed by the university."

The administration told the Earth, Environmental and Geographical Sciences (EEGS) Department roughly three weeks ago they'd possibly be losing 15 percent of their outdoor classroom to the $88 million project.

The project was shored up this morning when the board unanimously approved a resolution for construction and operation of the new dorms.

"I'm frustrated students are not being heard on the matters that are important to them," said Andrea Kantola, a graduating senior majoring in Environmental Science.

Students and faculty are concerned there isn't enough time to move the plants because the project could start as early as next week. University officials however, said they'll be helping.

"We've allocated the resources and the material to be able to take these plants and move them, so we'll look to our facilities department to help coordinate an effort to be able to transplant these plants," NMU President Fritz Erickson said.

Board of Trustees Chair Sook Wilkinson said that students may feel they lost a battle today, but they did make a difference. Because they spoke out, sustainability efforts at NMU are actively being discussed.

One decision that has to be made is what to do with the empty area left behind once Quad One is demolished.

"We're going to be tearing down four dorms and creating a great big open space, so there's a lot of opportunities to talk about what that could be--everything from gardens to maybe a solar farm," said Erickson. "What I see, the loss of 15 percent of this area is replaced by opportunity."