FARGO — North Dakota State University freshmen have been granted an exemption to live in faith-based housing at the new St. Paul's Newman Center under construction just across the street from the campus.

The university's policy is that all freshmen live on campus, but Center Director the Rev. James Cheney said he, parents and students were working with NDSU administrators to allow about 10 to 20 freshmen in the new apartments that have space for about 82 students.

It was originally thought the campus would allow such a move as they indicated they would follow a policy of the University of North Dakota in Grand Forks that allows freshmen to live in faith-based housing.

However, NDSU administrators apparently backtracked and turned down the student requests to live in Newman Living as it's called, and Cheney said they again tried to work with the administration on the issue.

After the Catholic-based center, parents and students found out they weren't getting anywhere with the administration, Cheney said, they took the issue to the North Dakota State Board of Higher Education.

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On Tuesday, June 29, the board overruled NDSU administrators and allowed the exemption for six students who applied to live at Newman Center.

Calls and an email to an NDSU spokesperson weren't answered Wednesday.

Cheney said he thought it was a "win-win situation," as they could perhaps attract more students with their parents knowing they were living in a faith-based facility.

"We thought we could pick up students that NDSU might not normally have," he said.

With 3,000 people donating to the Newman Center fund drive that raised $24 million so far, Cheney said there were donors who wanted their young adults at the center.

The three-story Newman Center's main features on the first floor will be a 450-seat chapel, library, student lounge, coffee shop/bookstore and offices for counseling and staff. The second floor has a ballroom that can hold about 350 people, a kitchen/dining room and a choir room. A rectory will be on the third floor.

The housing is attached to the south side of the Newman Center.

Cheney said the housing facility will open Aug. 1, and so far it's at about 60% capacity. The ministry center and offices will open about Nov. 1, with the chapel slated to be completed next spring.

The facility along University Drive and 12th Street North is just across the street from the campus's southeast corner.

The other part of the entire block of new development that replaced some blighted homes includes Roers Development's 86-unit apartment building and future townhomes in a neighborhood where neighbors were supportive of the Newman Center but raised concerns about losing single-family homes to the additional apartment units. Residents also worried about the increased population density from the apartment building.

Cheney said the Newman Center has helped serve the spiritual needs of NDSU students for 93 years and was built into "one of the top campus ministry programs in the country."

He said it's scientifically proven that students who experience religion in college have much higher academic achievements and favorable mental health.