Calling Merrimack College "a hot school" as 5,000 applications were received for 700 freshman slots this year, college officials said the school must grow to remain competitive.
The college's first phase of plans is being presented two town boards and college neighbors this week. The proposal is a six-building residential project with 428 beds. The buildings will be built in the middle of campus, now an open green space of paths connecting dorms to various buildings.
The college is located in both Andover and North Andover with the new buildings located entirely in Andover. Current tuition is $45,610.
Town planner Jacki Byerley said the college has seven acres in Andover. If plans are approved, construction would start this September and end in August 2013.
"We need more students," Merrimack's Chief of Staff Jeff Doggett told college neighbors - mostly from Andover - at a meeting Monday night, July 9. "You'll see this college close if we don't have a master plan."
After the meeting, he said 40 to 50 upperclass students will be living at the Marriott's Residence Inn in west Andover this fall as dorms are already squeezed for space. These students will be shuttled to the main campus for classes.
The college also looked at leasing the Franciscan Center on River Road for student housing. But Doggett said the Residence Inn works better for the college's needs. Residence Inn rooms have kitchens.
"Residence Inn does this for colleges across the country," said Doggett, who previously worked for Northeastern University in Boston and handled neighborhood issues.
At the neighborhood meeting, Doggett said colleges need a master plan to survive and attract students these days as college enrollments are expected to drop in the coming years.
"Remember Bradford College?" he asked the crowd of about 20 neighbors. The Haverhill college suffered the consequences of having no master plan and it closed, he said. Its site is now home to Zion Bible College.