Lehigh off-campus students respond to SouthSide Commons construction

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SouthSide Commons is being constructed on the southwest corner of Lehigh’s campus next to Birkel Avenue. Many Lehigh students who rent off-campus houses live on Birkel Avenue. (Will Newbegin/B&W Staff)

Along Birkel Avenue, a block southwest from Lehigh’s campus, the smell of dust hangs in the air while the shrill backhoes beep out of sight. Signs for Campus Hill, J & R properties and Ethos leasing companies adorn nearly every home along the one-way street, where residents — some Lehigh students, some Bethlehem community members — reside.

Where once a parking lot lay opposite the row of houses now stands the bustling construction operation that is the apartment complex SouthSide Commons.

The newfound commotion from the construction has frustrated residents of Birkel Avenue, many of whom are Lehigh students. The site’s hours of operation, which have extended into the early mornings and the weekends, disrupt the previously quiet mornings.

“I lived here over the summer, and I was consistently woken up at 5 a.m. every day,” said Sage Herrick, ’20.

Herrick said she finds construction waste in front of her house most mornings.

Calvin Floyd, ’19, who lives on Birkel Avenue, recalled one time there was a cement truck outside his house at 4 a.m.

“Everyone in my house had a strong impression that there was little care for the residents of Birkel and the nearby area, as far as noise,” said Floyd. 

Herrick, Floyd and Mandy McHale, ’20, all said they signed their current leases before the school announced the building project, and they were unaware of the impending construction.

Herrick said she only learned of the project in March 2018 when she saw the construction fencing go up.

Both Herrick and Floyd said they feel that the transparency issues of the administration regarding this construction are symptomatic of Lehigh’s communication practices during the Path to Prominence campaign.

“I definitely wish the school would be more transparent about it,” Floyd said. “I work in admissions, and I barely know what’s going on with this stuff.”

Floyd said he and his housemates voiced concerns to the university that he feels were brushed off.

McHale, who lives with Herrick, said the building’s location is an inconvenience.

“There used to be a parking lot (next to Birkel Avenue), so it was really easy to cut over (from) Birkel,” McHale said. “It adds five minutes, at least, onto my commute.”

The new apartment building stretches across two city blocks from East Packer Avenue to Fourth Street. A sprawling view of Bethlehem and Lehigh from Birkel is now obstructed, which Floyd said makes him feel segregated from campus.

“I live on the third floor of my house on the (east-facing) side,” Floyd said. “Back when I was first in there, I could see out (toward campus). Now, I have a great view of a brick wall. I went (to the window), and suddenly there was a man staring back at me.”

Construction began in March 2018, and it is expected to be completed in August 2019.

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1 Comment

  1. Robert F Davenport Jr on

    One wonders if when the administration makes decisions, it tries to determine the actual effects of that decision along with it desired would be the effects. This seems to be the implication of this article . There is a student – administration disconnect when Lehigh is trying to address the housing situation and students see aural, visual and physical irritants.

    The administration would do well to get input from students, who are intelligent, when changes are made. Students would do well to respect the experience and responsibilities of the administration. Working together should result in a better Lehigh, An mostly adversarial relationship will degrade Lehigh’s reputation. Alumni also have a stake in the discussions.

    Today’s culture has too much of “trying to get what you want” versus “trying to get what you need”, we are all affected by it.

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