Pro: Street should close for school growth
• WHAT: A discussion of options for the St. Joseph High School expansion
• WHERE: St. Joseph High School cafeteria
• WHEN: 5:30 p.m. Jan. 23
Ruth Williams has lived in College Park for 50 years.
She has watched St. Joseph High School grow just like the young students who walk through its doors.
The school is as much a part of the neighborhood as she is, she said.
"I think it is a wonderful thing they are expanding," she said. "In my heart, I want the street closed because I can see it having a very nice campus there. I think it would do a lot to build a beautiful campus at St. Joseph."
Williams said she can imagine benches for the students to relax, trees and decorative plants.
Most importantly, she said, the students should be safe.
"I think it would be safer for them, even if they are old enough to cross the street," Williams said.
Bill McArdle, principal of St. Joseph High School, agreed.
He said because students will be crossing during each passing period and after hours for extra-curricular activities, closing the street completely is the best way to ensure security.
"As much as we would like to think they are always alert and paying attention, they are thinking about any number of things: a test, a basketball game, a relationship," McArdle said.
In addition, Robert Kovar, chairman of the school's board of directors, said if the street is not closed, the school will not be able to increase parking room as much.
"With our current facility, that would require us to position the building different, and we would lose some of the parking on that lot, which would mean some of the students wouldn't be able to park all on private property," Kovar said.
The new building could also act as an emergency shelter for Victoria if a FEMA grant, already approved at the state level, is approved in Washington, D.C., he said.
Though Councilman Tom Halepaska believes the safety of the students is important, as young adults, they should be able to cross the street on their own, he said.
Still, he voted for the block closure in the Jan. 2 council meeting because the school must grow.
"We have done other things for other institutions that needed to grow. We sold a street to Citizens Medical Center and one to DeTar Hospital, and both of those institutions are better because of it. And traffic has not been impeded because of one block being closed off," Halepaska said.
And with St. Joseph offering 10,934 square feet of East Red River Street and $11,700 to compensate for the block closure, according to Victoria Development Services Coordinator, Jared C. Mayfield, Halepaska said it is a fair deal to the city.
"It would aid us into the future expansion of Red River; it would give us a right of way to do so when the funds become available. ... I think both sides can win on this," he said.
Ben Keating, a St. Joseph parent, said the block closure should be approved.
"I'm excited about it. It will make both sides of the road come together as more of a campus, and it will be safer for the kids," he said.
Clayton Davidson, a senior at St. Joseph, said if students are required to cross the street regularly, closing the block would undoubtedly be safer.
And even though Williams said she wants the school to be successful, she thinks there should be discussion before any decisions are made, which is why she signed a petition to delay the closure.
Kovar said St. Joseph officials want to involve the community in the decision and are holding a meeting to discuss all the options.
"This is not as issue of us against them. We all want a safe neighborhood. ... We want to come up with a solution that solves as much of that conflict as possible," Kovar said.