Neighbors help establish campus-development priorities

April 29, 2016 / By: Amy Gage
aerial view of campus with the arches

Build more student housing on the north end of the St. Paul campus by replacing the century-old Ireland residence hall near Selby and Cleveland avenues.

Preserve the green space on the far corner of the south campus, along Goodrich Avenue and Mississippi River Boulevard. “To us, that is inviolate,” one neighbor said.

Create more parking on the north campus off Cleveland to accommodate people who attend events and Mass, and to mitigate the parking lost to the bike lanes that Ramsey County will stripe this summer.

Those were among the themes that Hastings + Chivetta principal Chris Chivetta said he heard on April 26, during a community workshop about the Campus Master Plan attended by 70-some neighbors along with St. Thomas staff.

Chivetta, whose St. Louis-based firm is collaborating with St. Thomas on the 26-month process, cited last fall’s online survey in which neighbors declared three distinct priorities:

  • More on-campus housing
  • Less student parking in the neighborhood
  • Mindful driving and more awareness of pedestrians.

Participants in the community workshop spent an intense 90 minutes in small groups figuring out where more residence halls, a new science-and-engineering building, and a 250-seat performance space and fine arts center — all of which are priorities for St. Thomas — could go on the land-locked campus.

They had to work within the conditions that govern the university’s development: A Conditional Use Permit that the St. Paul City Council approved in August 2004 prevents St. Thomas from buying property within one mile of campus.

The CUP also requires the university to preserve six houses on the south side of Summit Avenue between Finn and Cretin, and to keep Finn open between Summit and Grand. And it prohibits any new academic buildings on Summit or Grand between Cretin and Cleveland except on Summit Avenue just west of McNeely Hall.

Neighbors' ideas

Here are nine highlights from the nine groups of neighbors that plotted the university’s campus needs with some of their own priorities:

  1. Seek to change the 2004 Conditional Use Permit — a process that would require neighborhood buy-in and, ultimately, City Council approval — in order to add up to two levels of parking at Anderson Parking Facility on Cretin at Grand.
  2. More than 90 percent of first-year students at St. Thomas live on campus; keeping sophomores on campus is another challenge altogether. One group suggested “unifying” sophomore residences in the historic houses on Summit Avenue, between Finn and Cretin.
  3. Add marked crosswalks across Cleveland Avenue heading east from campus between Portland and Marshall.
  4. Keep sophomores on campus by establishing a two-year residency requirement.
  5. Reduce the cost of parking for faculty, staff and students. “I don’t want to hear that there’s one open space on campus,” said one resident, “not when neighborhood parking is the nightmare that it is.”
  6. Bring retail to Grand Avenue, especially near the Cleveland-Grand corner that already has Davanni’s and Coffee Bene; put apartment-style housing for upperclassmen above those stores and restaurants.
  7. On the south campus, tear down Cretin Hall for men and Grace Hall for women (built in 1895 and around 1900, respectively) for newer-model structures that will attract today’s students.
  8. Send shuttle buses into the neighborhoods so fewer students who live off campus feel the need to drive.
  9. Put the new fine arts center where Brady Education Center is, just south of Cretin and Grace halls, and where visitors could enjoy the river and skyline views.

What's next?

In addition to significant fund raising, an effective master plan will require “culture change” on campus, one group said.

“This is going to require St. Thomas to think about on-campus housing in new ways,” said a Merriam Park resident. “Maybe today there are dorms where students don’t want to go. But dig deep, survey students. What would draw them back on campus? Other colleges have figured out the ‘secret sauce’ of doing that.”

A Macalester-Groveland resident also challenged St. Thomas to see the value of open space amid all the talk of new buildings. “The green space at Mississippi River Boulevard should not be given up,” she said. “It’s been a passion of the neighborhood to preserve that space. It’s one of the last green spaces that neighbors can access on campus.”

Chivetta met with the Physical Facilities Committee of the St. Thomas Board of Trustees on April 27, the day after the community workshop. St. Thomas will provide more updates to neighbors through meetings of the West Summit Neighborhood Advisory Committee.