In the growing shadow of Boise State, Southeast Boise isn't the most well-defined neighborhood in town. But it has its own history. Just ask Fred Fritchman, exhibit graphics designer at the Idaho Historical Museum and Southeast Neighborhood Association board member.
"I grew up in the neighborhood. I graduated from Boise State University. Now I live in the same house as my grandparents once did," said Fritchman, proud of the geography surrounding his home and heritage. Annexed into the city a century ago, after its beginnings as a village alongside the Oregon Trail, the boundary between urban and residential in Southeast Boise is being redrawn again. As Boise State expands its borders to Beacon Street, building taller, new structures and adding parking, an increasingly urban feel is transforming the quiet neighborhoods.
With abundant trees, old homes, and just a short jaunt away from downtown, Southeast Boise, near Boise State, is akin to a lost sibling of the North End. Apart from the occasional overzealous party or sporting event, it's quiet, too.
"You might expect it to be wild and loud, but it isn't," said Fritchman. "If you enjoy being close to downtown, going to games, going to school, then it is a great place to live. It's one of Boise's best kept secrets."
Since its beginning as Boise Junior College in 1940, the campus has continually expanded. In 1996, the city approved a campus master plan to develop, renovate and transform the 170 acres of the campus sandwiched between Capitol Boulevard and Beacon Street into a metropolitan area to accommodate growing student enrollment numbers with additional classrooms and student housing, as well as to lure educators and researchers with new research facilities and faculty offices.
Hal Simmons, planning director at Boise City Planning and Development Services, sees the campus expansion as a necessary step.
"We really think Boise State's expansion is vital to the overall health of the city. The master plan is a good way to deal with growth in a structured way." Simmons said.
Furthermore, the plan emphasizes building upward instead of outward by constructing taller buildings clustered closer together. This furthers a goal outlined in the master plan "to create an identification of the campus as part of downtown Boise."
"We think this is fantastic," said Simmons, concerning the vertical growth.
Construction has already transformed the blocks north of Beacon after $30 million in recent renovations and expansions to the Student Union Building. The 81,300 square foot Norco Building, the new home for the Department of Nursing and Student Health is slated for completion later this year. Another new building, part research facility and part teaching facility, the 90,000-square-foot Center for Environmental Science and Economic Development will house the departments of geosciences, civil engineering, public policy and administration and political science. And 80 smaller projects are also under way.
"The area will be a nexus for science and engineering, where people from different disciplines can cross fertilize each other's thinking," said James Maguire, associate vice president of finance and administration at Campus Planning and Facilities, creating what he feels will be a highly functional as well as a "beautiful urban campus."
As student enrollment numbers continue to climb, paramount to city planners, neighbors and Boise State officials alike is how to handle high volumes of people in the area. Long notorious for parking woes, Boise State is taking the issue in a different direction by making the layout of campus more pedestrian-oriented instead of vehicle-oriented.
"We are rethinking walkways and orientation to green areas. We want to make campus more pedestrian friendly," Maguire said. Renovations to the Student Union will also improve bus access with the addition of a Valley Regional Transit hub, with Boise State students able to ride the bus at the university's expense.
Still, the issue of overflow traffic for events like football games, which draw enormous crowds, remains. As Bronco football plows up existing parking lots for projects like the indoor practice facility and the Stueckle Sky Club, it is up to the community to absorb the overflow parking.
"Parking is always going to be an issue," said Maguire. "We take it on a day-to-day basis to provide adequate parking. If we invested the resources to make a parking facility to accommodate all the traffic on game days, six days of the year it would be full and the rest it would sit empty."
Still, traffic is a part of a larger concern—population density. Historically, the Southeast neighborhood consists of single-family dwellings, but with the growth of Boise State, the neighborhood saw the influx of students seeking affordable housing, and along with it came frat houses, noise complaints and, most concerning to residents, increased development of new housing. After a surge of skinny houses crowded in by developers, SENA and the city passed more rigid building restrictions, putting checks on population density.
With the expansion plans, increased student housing on campus is intended to take some pressure off of the neighborhood to house students. On Jan. 29, Boise State president Dr. Bob Kustra told the Idaho Senate Education Committee that within the next three or four years, "2,500 housing units will be constructed in a village across from the Student Union Building."
Following the urban design concept, these new buildings are reaching upward, four and five stories high. "The university is building up. I welcome that because it reduces pressure to expand outward," said Fritchman.
James Maguire makes it clear that a high priority is harmony: "Being a good neighbor is important to us."
To this end, Boise State and Zimmer Gunsul Frasca Architects, the Portland, Ore.-based planners contracted to write the master plan, hold occasional information sessions with the public to discuss details of the plan. The City holds official meetings as well, typically centering on community approval for specific projects.
Although SENA and Boise State do not regularly communicate, Fritchman feels that the university has been willing to listen. Some concerns can be handled as simply as having construction equipment access the sites from side streets.
As one of Boise's oldest neighborhoods evolves into an increasingly urban environment, Fritchman feels that Boise State has been a good neighbor so far.
"Boise State, to its credit, acknowledges our concerns and has been responsive," Fritchman said. "I praise the city, too, in realizing that Southeast Boise is a vibrant neighborhood, not in decline, but going strong."