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Northern State University renovations concern some neighbors

January 7, 2019

ABERDEEN, S.D. (AP) — When Wolves Memorial Suites was built a few years ago, Amy Schoen didn’t think much of it.

Then the students moved in.

“I really didn’t think I was going to be able to tell a difference when the dorm came in on 12th (Avenue Southeast), but I can,” Schoen told Aberdeen American News . “It’s gotten louder, it’s gotten a lot more kids walking back and forth from the bar where I never used to have that before.”

Schoen’s South Lincoln Street house is just a few doors down from the residence hall. So some nights, she can hear students return from the nearby Zoo Bar — a favorite watering hole of Northern State University students.

Wolves Memorial was one of three new dorms that have opened in the last two years. It’s part of an onslaught of new buildings and renovations on campus that started with the remodeling and addition to the Johnson Fine Arts Center in 2014 and will end with a new sports complex, which is set to open in 2021. All of the work has changed the neighborhood on the south side of town.

The students leaving the bar don’t bother neighbor Rene Axness as much. Her house is laid out so the living room and kitchen are in the front, with the bedrooms in the back.

“I’m actually impressed, I thought there would be some noise. Every once in a while I’ll hear when they’re practicing football when the wind is just right, or the air is just right, I’ll hear it a little bit,” she said. “But I can’t complain.”

Axness bought her house in 2017 and moved in about the same time as the students were returning to campus. Parking along the street has been her biggest issue.

“I could not get a parking place out there, so I carried my table from around the corner,” she said.

For the most part, Schoen said she’s loved living next to Northern for the last 21 years.

“I like my house, and I have a really nice backyard,” she said.

Improvements to the Washington Street parking lot a few years ago added a couple of feet to its height, so Schoen gets a little unsettled that the vehicles are parked above her backyard. There’s a fairly big slope from the parking lot into her yard.

“I couldn’t even use to be able to tell that there was a college in my backyard,” she said. “Now I feel like the cars are right there, looking in my backyard.”

On the other side of campus, neighbors along South State Street aren’t too worried about a new football stadium that’s set to open in fall 2021.

It’ll just be more of the same for them — an additional five or six days each year when the streets are lined with vehicles and there’s a bit more noise coming from across the way.

“As far as the stadium goes, we don’t see an issue with that because we now have the Barnett Center, which draws a lot of people (who park) on the street — public street,” said Rod Barr. “We have Arts in the Park, that parks on the public street, State B basketball, wrestling, standard Northern basketball games — ”

″ — We’ve just gotten used to it,” Kathy Barr finished.

Now, the Barrs now look out their front windows and see the South Dakota School for the Blind and Visually Impaired. It’s the same view they’ve had for eight years.

Soon that view will be a construction site, then a football stadium.

A new state school for the blind will be built along South State Street where Jerde Hall used to be. The football stadium and a softball field will be on the site of the existing school for the blind just north of Melgaard Park. Both projects are part of Northern’s extensive master plan.

A few doors down from the Barrs, Sea Atwood said the stadium might be an improvement to the neighborhood over the current school for the blind building.

“I think it will be better to look at than what we’ve got now,” he said.

While it’s been a good building for more than 50 years, the design is fairly utilitarian.

Atwood said there have been a couple of home sales in the neighborhood since the announcement, but he thinks his property values will go up.

Some have groused that the new stadium will drive property values down.

With a grandson playing for the Wolves soon, the Barrs already planned to go to more football games than they had previously, they said. Rod Barr has gone to Northern games out at Swisher Field sporadically through the years. Football isn’t really of Kathy Barr’s thing.

But the couple has gone to basketball and volleyball games at the nearby Barnett Center.

It’s been many years since Atwood said he has watched a Wolves football game, but with the stadium right across the street, that might change.

“It’d be a lot easier to talk me into it now,” he said.

Now, the Northern football team plays at Swisher Field on the southeast edge of town. That’s about a mile and a half from campus.

Even with some night events, the corridor should empty by the end of the 10 o’clock news, Rod Barr said.

“We’re not talking late at night,” he said.

While it’s a little more congested on South State Street during games, the Barrs said getting in and out of their driveway isn’t too much trouble. They even think they’ll be able to make a few bucks once the stadium is built.

“I can rent my parking spots,” Rod Barr said with a chuckle.

A parking lot planned for South Lincoln Street directly south of Wolves Memorial might help alleviate some of the issues for neighbors.

“It’s going to be nice for the parking, because there are cars all the way down Lincoln (now), and I’m very thankful that I happen to be on the east side of the street,” Schoen said.

Two houses along Lincoln that were previously owned by the NSU Foundation have recently been purchased by the university proper with approval from the South Dakota Board of Regents. Those properties, and a third across 12th Avenue Southeast from Briscoe Hall, will add about 50 additional parking spaces to campus.

How the west side of campus will be affected on football game days remains to be seen.

“I really don’t know,” Schoen said. “But I’m kind of disappointed that I can hear the noise.”

But the east side knows what’s up.

The last time the neighborhood surrounding Northern changed this much was when the Barnett Center opened, said Aberdeen Mayor Mike Levsen. That resulted in Northern hosting considerably more events.

“That was probably a bigger change to the neighborhood than what will come now, when you think about it,” he said. “That was the change that brought dozens and dozens — hundreds of events that were never held on the campus to be held on the campus then.”

A full Barnett Center is something neighbors are used to. Most of the people who live near Northern bought their houses knowing about the events the facility hosts, Atwood said. He’s been in his home for 10 years.

“It’s not going to change anything,” he said. “The difference around here is going to be five Saturdays a year, other than that, it’s exactly like it is now.”

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Information from: Aberdeen American News, http://www.aberdeennews.com

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