Campus Apartment Life Hasn’t Always Been Grounded
Published: Wednesday, October 24, 2012
Updated: Wednesday, October 24, 2012 16:10
When peering at Bison Court from my Stockbridge Hall dorm room almost 20 years ago, I never could have imagined that I would someday live there, and it would then be a top-notch, three-story apartment building.
In those days, it consisted of three elongated one-story structures made up of several side-by-side units that served as housing for married couples and their children.
Although they seemed to be somewhat outdated at the time, there wasn’t much reason to believe that the simple abodes sharing a big back yard littered with trikes, swing sets and Tonka trucks was within about 10 years of being replaced.
The two original Bison Court buildings, opened in 1957 with a third being added in 1958, gave couples and their kids a sense of home for more than 40 years until increased housing demands made them expendable.
In 2004, the new and yet affordable East and West Bison Courts replaced the 60 ground level one and two bedroom apartments.
When combined, the dual brick fortresses contain 57 one bedroom, 17 two bedroom and 29 studio apartments as well as the Residence Life and Dining Services offices.
As a perennial apartment dweller, it’s safe for me to say that $450 per month rent for my studio, which includes all utilities, cable and internet is a pretty good deal almost anywhere here in the region.
This opinion has become solidified upon meeting several recent newcomers to Williston, N.D., who are paying at least twice this amount for a makeshift room built in somebody’s garage in my hometown gone boomtown.
Just like Williston is now, NDSU has occasionally been put in a bad position when it comes to residential demand. Bison Court has always been a more permanent solution to needs on this front; however, the temporary versions could not always be avoided.
As I sit and gaze westward from my current second floor living quarters, I sometimes think about the memories that many families must have been created below. I also remember the smattering of mobile homes that we used to see grouped along where Newman Outdoor Field’s right field foul line eventually came to exist. The few that remained in the ‘90s were part a once larger complex referred to as West Court.
Well before that particular trailer park eyesore was allowed, approximately 160 “tin huts” were scattered about the 30-plus acres known as North Court where the University Village now stands east of the Fargodome.
This was a result of the college having to quickly come up with a makeshift plan in the mid to late ‘40s that would address what was then considered to be a temporary phenomenon of increased married student enrollment. As it turned out, this by no means became a passing trend.
“North Court was constructed for housing married veterans following World War II and has been a valuable facility for many married students as low-cost housing,” said NDSU housing director in 1968. “But the temporary nature of the buildings has long since signaled the need for their replacement. Something that is necessary as soon as possible.”
There’s no doubt that the previously government-owned trailers made for cheap housing, but at only $30 per month, the inhabitants probably weren’t getting any more than what they were paying for. Many students -- like my grandparents who grew up without running water or electricity -- didn’t know any different and therefore found the living conditions to be acceptable.
This sort of community living caused me to compare their situation to that of a post-disaster FEMA village and there doesn’t end up being much of a comparison at all. Those facilities are equipped like palaces when stacked up against North Court, which would likely be construed as a quite primitive encampment according to today’s standards.
“They were small, boxy trailer houses and all ours had was an icebox, sofa bed, and a heater,” Audrey Liudahl, wife of WWII vet and NDSU alum, said. “It was pretty crude and unpainted on the inside, but after we turned the heater on, and it warmed up, we were okay.”
Despite the eventual wheeling in of new trailers that featured kitchens, refrigerators and even water hookups, they were still merely band-aids to an ongoing issue that obviously wasn’t going to heal itself. Even though occupancy rates at North Court began to diminish due to more modern options available at both West and a Bison courts, a big step still needed to be taken.
Shortly after the very outdated shantytown finally cleared out, NDSU garnered the state funding necessary for the construction of University Village. The ongoing temporary housing issue was mercifully on its way to being permanently fixed, as the last of the mobile homes were on track to be rolled out for good.
As necessary as it was for the NDSU to go the temporary route, it at some point became important for the campus to shed any evidence of accommodating student housing needs in the manner it did for far too long. At the same time, I’m glad I had the opportunity to get a glimpse of what that situation was maybe like.
This vantage point has given me the perspective needed to notice how much on-campus living conditions have improved. In fact, I’m beginning to wonder how much better it could be in another 20 years for the students who will someday look through the same sets of windows as I have.