In neighborhoods around campus, a hardworking and close community
From his house on the 300 block of San Rafael Street, Jeff Neal has seen some unusual behavior from Colorado College students –– be it public urination, public intoxication, or the public pyromania of a Christmas tree in the middle of a city street.
Neal, who has lived in his home near the college for the last three years, says he tries his best to get along with his student neighbors. Sometimes it’s a bit much to bear.
“I knew what we were getting into living in this neighborhood and that there would be students and that occasionally it would be loud and there would be parties,” he said. “We thought that it would be OK, that it would be manageable.”
While it has been manageable for Neal and his family, others are struggling with the noise, trash, and general disruption that sometimes accompany CC students looking to party.
But what are the neighborhoods around campus actually like and what are the people like that live there?
The Old North End of Colorado Springs, which encompasses much of the area surrounding CC, was built off the gold mining prosperity that helped create the Pikes Peak Region at the turn of the 20th century. Many of the homes now inhabited by students once belonged to wealthy entrepreneurs and are over 100 years old.
Now this part of the city is recognized for its hard-working middle class families and proximity to downtown. The communities around the college are places where neighborhood dogs, like one named Tommie that roams San Rafael, presides, and residents roast marshmallows in sidewalk bonfires on summer nights.
CC students don’t always fit in.
“First of all, I have a lot of respect for the majority of students who go to CC,” said Cathy Wilson-O’Donnell, a CC alumnus and the Colorado College liaison for the Old North End Neighborhood. “Sometimes we have maybe 500 people who live off-campus, and the people who get the most attention are 15 or so students who characterize how the [community] views CC. People look at CC and just those 15 people and how they act, [and] that’s not a fair representation of the majority of students who live off-campus. But I think that sometimes tends to be a generalization.”
Wilson-O’Donell said that beliefs about this year’s student-neighbor relations as being exceptionally worse aren’t fair.
“I actually think it has gotten better because we have a clear avenue of how to deal with neighbors,” she said. “If there is a complaint or something, there is a structured way of dealing with that. I think the college has been very receptive since I have been in this position.”
The neighborhood group, known as ONEN and which encompasses 1,500 homes spanning 89 city blocks, has been working hard to build relationships with neighborhood students by hosting parties and praising community involvement.
“I like to tell the students to go native,” Vic Appugliese, President of ONEN, said. “I would say to you, ‘Come into this opportunity given to you and practice being native because in less than 9 months you will be a young graduate professional.’”
For Danny Melcher, a resident on the 300 block of San Rafael Street who has been involved in mediation with the administration and students over party-related problems this year, said the issue isn’t with all students, just a specific group that has lived near him since last summer.
“I think it’s all up to the individual students, really,” he said. “The way the system is set up kind of lends itself to a problem in that I have to deal with a brand new set of kids every single year.”
Melcher views the college’s policy that mandates students must live on-campus until they are seniors or have adequate credits as adding to the communication problems he faces with his current student-neighbors
“The school is not necessarily teaching students to live in the environment and it doesn’t provide the opportunity for kids to live here 2-3 years in a row where they actually are part of the neighborhood and actually do have neighbors and can assimilate a little bit,” he said.
Getting to know the neighbors
Neal, who is the father of two college grads and a daughter who currently attends the University of Colorado at Boulder, lives with his wife and works in the business world.
Three years ago when he was looking to buy a house, he and his family started shopping near the college. The previous owner of the house Neal now owns assured him that the party culture at CC wasn’t a problem
“When he told us everything was fine, he would say things like, ‘Oh yeah, the landlord says they can’t have parties after 10 p.m. so it’s always quiet around here,” Neal said. “We believed him.”
The Neals later found out that the man they had bought their house from, who often complained to the college about problems associated with student parties, had allegedly moved furniture and debris from the front yards of surrounding student homes in order to make the community seem more cleanly and tame.
They expected rowdiness, but were surprised by how much the previous owner hadn’t told them.
“The people who move here and know there is a student population very nearby, [like us], want to get along with students,” Neal said. “They still moved in and bought a house and decided to live here because they had an expectation of what it might be like. And when that expectation is not met, or they are so wrong, that’s when there is an issue.”
The Neals have called the police once on a student party. It was a few years ago right before graduation when there was a student band that was so loud it sounded like it was “literally in [their] backyard.”
Since then, nothing has been bad enough to warrant a 911 call. Others haven’t been as fortunate.
Appugliese said three families have left the neighborhood in recent years because of student rowdiness.
“When you see good neighbors like that leave, neighbors you would love to live next to –– I can’t lose those people to the party ambitions of students,” Appugliese said.
ONEN and CC co-hosted a neighborhood meet and great for students and local community members at the home of a 90-year-old woman who adores the college. Student turnout wasn’t great, but it’s a start, they say.
“Personally, the only reason I am in the North End is because of CC,” Wilson-O’Donnell said. “I love bing able to attend the different lectures and everything CC offers. I have lived all over the world; I didn’t just move a block and a half away and just stay here.”
Melcher worries that the college community might have a negative impact on his livelihood.
“I do have a mortgage and I worry about house appreciation and the value of my neighborhood,” Melcher said. “When some of the things that I am greatly concerned about detract from that, it’s more than just being kept up until two, three, or four o’clock every morning when I have to get up at 4:30 a.m. to go to work.”
Local residents agree that what’s needed is more communication between students and neighbors. When students reach out and build a relationship with the community, it creates a dialogue that prevents police or administrative intervention.
Neal and Melcher said they rarely or never have issues with student neighbors who introduce themselves at the start of the year and provide contact information in case a party gets too loud or students break the law.
“I think if you could cultivate some kind of culture of mutual respect, then everybody would be fine,” Neal said. “I don’t think that the people who are complaining actually want to stop parties –– I don’t think that’s their goal. I think they want a little respect, a little empathy.”
Appugliese said that upticks in party behavior and neighbor complaints happen on a cyclical basis by year. At the start of the millennium, things were the worst he has seen them in his 15 years living near CC.
A few years ago he even attended a conference in Texas outlining how college party trends work.
“Overall, I do think we’re making an improvement,” Appugliese said.
For now, neighbors just want some respect.
“One thing I want to make clear, and we’ve talked about this with the college, is that it’s not about the parties,” Melcher said. “It’s about the impact of the parties. I could care less if they have a party.”
While noise is the most common complaint of local homeowners and renters, it’s the public urination, vandalism, and dangerous acts that impact the community the most.
“When students move off-campus they move into a neighborhood where there are people with kids and people who have to go to work…” Neal said. “This is not just off-campus and there are no rules.”