There goes the neighborhood

A couple of modest brick buildings that for decades provided cheap and cozy housing to married students at the University of South Dakota have fallen to a wrecking ball.

MAIN?PHOTO: Workers use large backhoes and bulldozers to reduce Cypress Court and Redwood Court on the University of South Dakota campus to rubble last week. The two buildings were constructed over 50 years ago to serve as housing for married students. (Photo by David Lias)

Or, to be more accurate, large backhoes, bulldozers and trucks that have been busily hauling away what's left of Cypress Court and Redwood Court.

ABOVE PHOTO: Cypress Court and Redwood Court each featured 40 small, modest apartments, as shown in this photo taken shortly after Cypress Court was constructed in 1958. The two buildings served the housing needs of married students as recently as 2008. (Archives and Special Collections, University Libraries, USD)

The two buildings on USD's campus, located on Pine Street, have been easy to miss in recent years, even though they are located only about a block south of Cherry Street, which carries the brunt of Vermillion's traffic. A tall stand of evergreen trees along the housing units' north edge obscured the buildings.

According to a description of a photo of one of the Cypress Court apartments, on file in the Digital Library of South Dakota web page, Cypress Court was constructed in 1958.

"The University of South Dakota received a substantial loan to build Cypress Court and an addition to Julian Hall," according to the photo description. "Cypress Court consisted of 40 small apartments and was inhabited by married students. Redwood Court joined the neighborhood two years later."

Cypress and Redwood Courts were also featured prominently on a page of the 1967 "Coyote," USD's yearbook. Among several photos of the buildings' exteriors and a young university family enjoying the simple comforts provided by the small apartments are pictures of the local families that managed the buildings at the time – Marvin Van Kekerix and his wife, Gloria, managed Cypress Court. Dick Worman and his wife, Mary, managed Redwood Court.

According to the yearbook, "The married students of USD enjoy the comfort and convenience of Cypress and Redwood Courts. Each provides 40 modern efficiency apartments available to the married student and his wife."

Leading to the buildings' demise is the small size of each apartment, the changes over the years in housing needs and tastes of married USD students with young families, and the recent construction of Coyote Village on the northern edge of campus near the DakotaDome.

The fate of the two buildings was sealed in the spring of May 2009 during a South Dakota Board of Regents meeting on the USD campus. At that meeting, the Regents authorized university officials to go ahead with its plans to construct Coyote Village.

"It (Coyote Village) will allow us to raze Cypress (Court) and Redwood Court," Richard Van Den Hul, who served as USD's vice president of finance and administration at the time, told the Regents. It will also give the university the option to transform some double-occupancy rooms in existing dorms to single-occupancy."

"The demolition of the buildings is part of a housing revitalization plan," Phil Carter, USD's manager of media relations, said Tuesday. "A couple years ago, when the administration went before the Board of Regents to discuss the possibly of Coyote Village … they laid out a plan to renovate some of the existing residence halls on campus as well as clear Redwood Court and Cypress Court. So, we're in the second phase of that project."

Carter said Tuesday that he didn't know for certain what use the university has in mind for the space that will be created on campus once the rubble of the two demolished buildings is removed.

"I do think that it falls in line with that housing plan," he said. "It perhaps may be looked at as a place to put another residence hall. I think it's also being reviewed as possibly parking or possibly space for something else, such as another project on campus, another building. I'm not 100 percent sure, but taking the buildings off line and demolishing obviously opens up a good chunk of real estate on campus."

Carter said the two buildings have been "off line," in other words, not used on a regular basis by the university, for approximately the last two years.

"At one point, they were being used for staging by the Vermillion Police Department, event the state (Highway) Patrol, and of course University Police here to conduct scenarios for training," he said. "Even though they were off line, they certainly weren't empty and they were being utilized as a benefit to law enforcement."

Before the demolition began, workers combed through the buildings, removing windows, metal and other materials that could be recycled or sold. The same process continued as the walls were torn down, as it appears workers used their heavy equipment to sort pipe and metal into piles that eventually were hauled away in large trucks.

"It's all about sustainability," Carter said. "If you can re-use the materials, the better."

Less than four years ago, Cypress Court and Redwood Court were still fulfilling their original role as housing for married USD students. The Volante, USD's student newspaper, featured the lifestyles of couples living in the apartments in October 2008.

Jacquelin Boyle, a USD senior at the time, told The Volante that the Cypress Courts apartments made a good first home for her and her husband.

In the story, Boyle recommended the apartments for newly married couples.

"For our first year, I think it was really nice, as far as saving money and then being able to be on campus. I think it would be good for when you're first starting to be married, except you don't have too far to run from each other," Boyle said.

Elizabeth Harder, the university's housing director in 2008, told The Volante that the apartments at Cypress Courts were the only designated area on campus for married couples and students with children. 

That year, six families with children, 15 married couples and a number of graduate students and international students occupied the 40 apartments at Cypress Court. 

Students who are married or have a child are allowed to live off of campus, regardless of age, but some still choose to live on campus at Cypress. Most students in the apartments are newly married and are still close to the traditional college-age students, Harder said, and appreciate the community feeling of the campus.

"They're also still very connected to a lot of people who are still on campus. So it's kind of like the next step away, but you still have all the convenience of living on campus," Harder told The Volante.

The student newspaper's report noted that utilities were included in the rent charge for the one-bedroom apartments, as well as Internet, trash services and cable. The apartments also had private bathrooms and kitchens with a full-sized refrigerator and oven. Cypress Courts' apartments were identical to the dimensions of the apartments at Redwood Court.

Junior Sean Fitzsimmons and his wife Ramsey, a senior, were new to Cypress Courts in 2008. The couple moved in at the beginning of the fall semester that year and they told The Volante they are more than satisfied with their new living accommodations, even if the space is limited.

"We actually like it a lot. There's not really anything to dislike. If I have one complaint, I think it'd be that there is a little bit of lack of space. You have to be clever about where you put your stuff," Ramsey Fitzsimmons said.

Sean Fitzsimmons said the apartment's petite size surprised him. His wife, however, said she knew from past experiences that the living quarters would be tight.

"My sophomore year, I lived in Redwood Court, so I kind of knew going in what the size would be like and what the kitchen would be like. So, it wasn't a big surprise or anything," Ramsey Fitzsimmons said.

In The Volante story, Harder said many couples, generally around ages 21 and 22, choose Cypress because of low prices and less hassle. Rent payments are made monthly rather than by the semester, so students can live in the apartments year-round, Harder said.

"There are no hidden costs because it's also right into your tuition. So there's a convenience factor that really can't be beat. You don't have to worry about parking coming onto campus and (there is) 24-hour emergency response. They have all the services, so it's really about convenience," Harder said.

 Ramsey Fitzsimmons said the low price was the appeal for her and her husband.

"It's just a really good deal. They include your Internet services, your water and your electricity and garbage. It's just a really good rent deal for a one-bedroom apartment," Ramsey said.

Sophomore Mary Hosford told The Volante in 2008 that she was satisfied with her apartment at Cypress that she has lived in for the past year-and-a-half with her husband, Charlie. Hosford said she also liked the apartments because they are inexpensive and close to school, so she doesn't have to worry about driving back and forth.

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