The dormitories will add about 350 beds to the 1,600 Merrimack currently maintains on its 220-acre campus on Route 114 in Andover and North Andover.
The Volpe center project involves the construction of a second ice rink and an addition that will become the new home of the college’s sports medicine program.
The two projects, which together represent about a $25 million investment, are part of the 65-year-old Catholic college’s long-term growth strategy.
“The goal of the institution in many respects is to grow and be a leader in educating students,” said Jeffrey Doggett, chief of staff to Merrimack’s president, Christopher E. Hopey.
Doggett said that Hopey, a former administrator at Northeastern University and the University of Pennsylvania who came to Merrimack two years ago, sees continued growth as a key to the survival of any college.
“An institution that sits pat and doesn’t grow will suffer the consequences because it will just not challenge itself to be attractive to today’s students,” Doggett said.
A long-term plan approved by the college’s board last summer calls for Merrimack to increase enrollment to 3,000 undergraduates by 2021. There will be 2,300 this fall.
A related goal is to build the additional housing that will be needed to both attract and accommodate more students, said Doggett, noting that part of the planned growth will involve reaching out to students beyond the Merrimack Valley.
Currently, about 74 percent of Merrimack’s undergraduate live on campus.
“Merrimack College has served the Merrimack Valley very well and will continue to do so,” Doggett said. “But the number of high school graduates from the Merrimack Valley or Massachusetts at large is dropping, so Merrimack College has to appeal to a wider audience if it wants to maintain what it has [or] to grow.”
The college was founded in 1947 by the Order of St. Augustine at the invitation of Richard Cushing, then archbishop of Boston, to help serve local residents returning home from service in World War II. The order, located at Villanova University, continues to serve as a sponsor to Merrimack.
In addition to undergraduate degrees in liberal arts, business, science and engineering, and education, Merrimack offers master’s programs in education and a range of certificate, licensure, and degree completion programs.
The new dormitories will be three-story, wood-framed buildings, each with its own entrance, clustered around a grassy area and trees.
“We really wanted to have a very village-like feel to it,” Doggett said.
The Andover Planning Board on Aug. 14 completed a review of the site plan for the proposed dormitories, voting to recommend that the building inspector issue permits for the project, subject to conditions. The Conservation Commission, whose review was needed because the site is near wetlands, issued its approval Aug. 20.
The plan originally called for six buildings. But during its hearing before the Planning Board, the college eliminated one after abutters voiced concerns about the proximity of that building to their homes.
“We said there is no need to cause consternation or concern for a building we don’t actually need right away,” Doggett said.
Andover Town Manager Reginald S. Stapczynski said Merrimack’s decision to build additional dorms was not a surprise to the town.
“They have been in a very modest expansion mode the last few years and they’ve made numerous improvements to the campus over the last 20 years. So it’s a growing concern,” he said.
Paul Materazzo, Andover’s planning director, said, “From a planning standpoint, we welcome the opportunity to have more students living on campus. It provides us with an opportunity to tap into that market and hopefully attract some students to the downtown where they could frequent the local businesses.”
The addition to the Volpe center, which is in North Andover, will enable the college to implement its plan to expand its sports medicine program, part of its School of Science and Engineering.
“The college has decided to invest in those academic areas where we can play a larger role. Sports medicine is one of those places. . . . We are pretty excited,” Doggett said. The addition will also house a new weight room for athletes.
Doggett said the construction of a second ice rink — with a lobby that will become the new site of the college bookstore — will allow Merrimack to expand on its partnership with a local youth hockey club, providing the group with a permanent home. He said it would also generate revenue from rink rentals that will help pay for the expansion project.
Part of the project involves measures to mitigate the storm water runoff from the site that has contributed to periodic flooding in lower elevations in the campus and the surrounding neighborhood.
The new dorms and the Volpe rink and addition are expected to be open in the fall of 2013.