EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

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June 15, 2014

New dorms raising concern

Merrimack neighbors object to plans for 5 new buildings

NORTH ANDOVER — Plans by Merrimack College to build four new dormitories to house 350 students together with a community building in a field off Elm Street are drawing sharp concerns from neighbors.

The growing college unveiled its plans for a swath of land bordering Rock Ridge Road in Andover last week at a neighborhood meeting in Cascia Hall on campus.

Some 20 Andover residents criticized the plan, saying it will cause their property values to decrease and traffic woes to increase and that more college kids in their residential neighborhood is not what they want.

Felipe Schwarz, assistant vice president for external affairs at the college in North Andover on the Andover line, led the meeting and said the new dormitories are much needed as the college must grow to stay competitive.

“This college would have closed back in 2010 because of bad investments and the finances ... we want to remain competitive and grow,” he said. “We have to be innovative and create residential space ... and our students want to live on campus.”

Applications to the $51,201-a-year college are way up — from 3,800 in 2011 to 7,000 today, he said. When classes resume this fall, the college will be short 248 beds as 2,153 students are seeking on-campus housing and Merrimack residences can only accommodate 1,905, Schwarz said.

The new dorms would be built on what is now a lush, green grass field with big trees to the right of the college’s main entrance from Elm Street in Andover. The field is often used for parking overflow during the college’s big events, like graduation and championship hockey games. When it’s empty, students play pick-up football and soccer games on the field.

Three of the proposed buildings would be located in Andover and two in North Andover, with the community building in the middle of the four dormitories. Permits from both towns will be required.

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