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Birch Hall to be renovated, Maple to be torn down, for now

Birch Hall, located along Birchmont Drive Northeast on the Bemidji State University campus, is scheduled to be renovated during the 2011-12 school year. Pioneer Photo/Monte Draper

For years Bemidji State University's residential halls have given students a place to call "home."

In keeping up with new enrollment trends and changing times, BSU plans to renovate Birch Hall and eventually tear down Maple Hall.

Birch Hall

Dale Ladig, BSU's director of Residential Life, is excited about the plans for Birch Hall, which is set to be renovated in 2011-12.

"It's an old building, and the plumbing and electrical was starting to have difficulties," Ladig said.

Most of the 177 residents in Birch Hall are of sophomore status or above. It is the closest residential hall to academic buildings and offers students double or single rooms.

After the renovation, Birch Hall will have a warmer, north woods feel to it, with birch wood incorporated into its interior design.

"Everything will look new when the project is done," Ladig said.

The bathrooms in Birch Hall will be privatized community bathrooms. The bathrooms will still be used by a wing of students, but will offer lockable doors on showers and toilet stalls. More natural lighting will be added to the hallways.

The hall will be renovated so common area lounges with floor-to-ceiling windows that overlook Lake Bemidji will be added. There will also be a walk-out patio on the first floor.

"We learned a lot from Linden," Ladig said, referring to the 2008 renovation of Linden Hall into two- and three-bedroom suites. "We learned students wanted more privacy. They wanted more electrical outlets and greater control of temperature."

In planning for the Birch Hall renovation project, Ladig said, BSU officials met with three focus groups - Birch Hall residents, student leaders and a university facilities committee.

"Students didn't talk about private bathrooms," Ladig said. "But they wanted more privacy in their bathrooms."

Ladig said the Birch Hall renovation is different from Linden because the budget is more constrained. Also, Birch Hall will not offer suites.

"When we did Linden we came up with two-thirds of the number of rooms that we had originally," he said. "We couldn't afford to do this project unless we had full capacity or above capacity of where we were at."

According to Ladig, the total funding for the Birch Hall renovation project has not yet been secured.

"We have received design money," he said. "But the actual bond sale has not occurred."

He expects to secure the funding in the next few months and sees no reason why the funding will not be approved.

"We have shown and have demonstrated we can afford the project," Ladig said.

Maple Hall

Maple Hall, located along 23rd Street Northwest, near Oak Hall, is currently not housing students. It has not been largely unused for four years. BSU occasionally uses Maple Hall to provide short-term housing for students. While Birch Hall is being renovated, Maple Hall will likely house the Birch Hall students.

In the Residential Life Master Facility Plan, Maple Hall is projected to be demolished.

Ladig said while the facility plan calls for tearing down Maple Hall, he is not certain it will happen for sure.

"Recent information shows a couple problems in other halls that do not exist in the plan," Ladig said. "Maple was selected because it is at the end of the steam line and the end of the road."

Ladig said if Maple is torn down, it will likely be used as green space.

Pine Hall/Cedar Apartments

Pine Hall offers traditional student housing in one wing. In 1991 Pine Hall was renovated into 28 apartments to house single parents. This wing is now named Cedar Apartments.

BSU has offered single-parent housing for two decades. Ladig said he believes BSU is the only public institution in the United States that offers single-parent-only housing on campus.

Single-parent housing came to BSU after a study was completed more than 20 years ago, which surveyed the number of single parents enrolled at BSU. The study, according to Ladig, found 300 single parents were registered for classes at BSU.

In recent years, Ladig said, BSU has not had the same interest in on-campus housing from single parents as it once did. Because of the lower enrollment numbers, Cedar Hall has at times been on the budget "chopping block."

Now, despite the dwindling single-parent students needing on-campus housing, Cedar Hall's doors will remain open, thanks, in part, to Birch Hall's scheduled to be renovated.

Next school year, BSU's Health Services will be moved from Birch Hall to Cedar Hall.

"In making that decision we decided we are going to keep the Cedar Hall operation functioning," Ladig said. "This will give us an income source into Cedar we haven't had. We think it's going to give us a more management number and we can recommit to recruiting students who need a place to live while being a single parent."

Providing single-parent housing is a "tremendously morally right thing to do," Ladig said. "It's above and beyond our normal realm of responsibilities."

Ladig said he is not pleased the Department of Residential Living has been unable to hire a hall director to assist the single-parent students.

"I'm not sure we serve those students and their families as well as we possibly could," he said. "When you get into these financial times, it's hard to maintain all your services at the same level."