Foundation explores housing concept

Foundation explores housing concept by Brian Humphrey Vermillion and The University of South Dakota could see a change of the ages, literally. USD will soon dominate Vermillion's population with younger students when the fall term begins early next month.

A new housing concept may someday be developed, however, that will encourage older individuals to call Vermillion home.

University Village, a proposed retirement community, would seek USD alumni and former faculty from across the nation, as well as local residents. The University Village would be a mix of city, USD and area health care entities.

"We have a local committee organized involving the city government, Alumni Association, Sioux Valley Hospital Organization and the Dakota Hospital Association who are the key players in the group," University of South Dakota Foundation President Ted Muenster said.

The USD Foundation launched a research project last spring to determine interest through mail surveys to around 4,000 people, both in the area and around the country. The results of the survey should be known this summer, Muenster said.

The foundation has hired Witz Company, a consulting firm from Madison, WI, which specializes at planning retirement complexes that are associated with colleges.

"If it appears there is enough interest, then the next step is to present the idea to a variety of developers who specialize in developing these kinds of complexes and determine their interest and then chose a developer for the project," Muenster said. "I would guess we would be looking at maybe a year before we get a definite plan to break ground on something like this."

The University of South Dakota isn't the only Midwest college thinking about starting a village.

"I think there are others that are in the process in this part of the country. There is one being planned at the University of Wisconsin � Madison, the University of Nebraska � Lincoln and there are a number of them connected with smaller schools," Muenster said.

If the University Village proposal becomes reality, USD would become one of a handful of colleges or universities to have such a community.

"There are a number of them around the country. One of the oldest is at Iowa State University in Ames. The name of that one is called Green Hills Village and was started 25 years ago with people associated with Iowa State University," Muenster said.

A few of the other well-known

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communities include those at South Florida, Penn State, Indiana, Northwestern and Virginia.

Although Vermillion has a small town atmosphere, that does not diminish from any of the activities it can offer.

"The point of having it associated with the university gives older people an opportunity to be involved at the university. In some cases, they might want to attend class and some people are sports fans and want to go to the ballgames," Muenster added. "Other people are cultural people and want to go to the concerts and theatrical productions. The university offers a wide variety of activities, entertainment and intellectual stimulation not only for the 21 year-old but also the 81 year-old.

"Simply because you want to down size your living environment a bit doesn't necessarily mean you shut off your mind. I think someone who is 81 can learn a lot from young people and young people can learn a lot from someone who is 81," he said.

It is not only important for the retirees to remain active. It is just as important for the city itself.

"I think it is important for the growth of Vermillion," Muenster added. "I think this is a natural place for it because it's a small town � traffic is not an issue here, crime is not really an issue and it's just a safe, comfortable place to live."

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