Spring Hall Opens, Other Sites Neglected

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Spring Hall Opens, Other Sites Neglected

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Until last month, Saint Louis University had not opened a new residence hall for nearly two decades. Spring Hall, constructed beside Beracha Hall and just a stroll from Fusz Hall, will be followed by the second dorm in two years: Grand Hall, scheduled to open in August 2017. The primordial structure beside Griesedieck Hall, which looks anything but grand at this point, will become a 530-student dorm complete with a 740-student dining hall, continuing the university’s efforts to improve student housing.

While Spring’s construction went less noticed, the remodeling of SLU’s grounds in preparation for Grand Hall has been harder to ignore. At the corner of Grand and Laclede, anyone driving by the school will notice the space has changed since last year. Where trees once grew, beautifying the campus, a blue fence now guards the site: the ugly duckling of SLU’s Frost Campus.

This eyesore, however, is relatively fleeting, unlike many properties SLU has acquired over the years. Within the city after which it is named, Saint Louis University is an organism that continues to grow and change. It has expanded farther than most students are aware, and will continue to do so. Between Chouteau Avenue, South Compton Avenue, Park Avenue and 39th Street, SLU has created a 60-block area where much of its property holdings reside. Under former President Fr. Lawrence Biondi, the school gobbled up property after property, many times coming into conflict with its neighbors.

In August 2011 SLU purchased the site of the former Pevely Dairy Company Plant, a complex that in 2009 was nominated and accepted to the National Register of Historic Places. Although SLU initially did not divulge its intentions, in December 2011 the school requested permission to tear down the complex despite its historic label. When the city planning commission denied the school, former President Biondi threatened to close Saint Louis University’s School of Medicine and transport its operations to the county. The city planning commission overturned the denial in February 2012, ceding to the university, and in early April 2012, demolition began.

Since then, however, SLU has yet to develop anything on the site where the plant once stood. This site is not an anomaly. SLU owns many properties that have been either reduced to an open field or left in a state of disrepair. In discussing SLU’s plans for the medical center, architect and member of the Pevely Preservation Coalition, Paul Hohmann, weighed in on SLU’s land use options.

“SLU has acres and acres and acres of land all over the place to build their medical office buildings,” he said. “You’ve got to think they have a 20-year master plan on what to do with all that property. After all, they’re buying it. But if they have such a plan, they’re not showing it.”

Perhaps SLU should spend more time developing the land it already owns instead of investing so much on building new structures like Spring and Grand Hall. While improving resident living certainly adds to the school, expanding the school’s borders while leaving them undeveloped does not help the community. Where a business or residential space could establish itself, SLU has instead bought these properties to account for future expansion. This is especially harmful to the city because these undeveloped spaces do not produce tax revenue; SLU is a not-for-profit institution and thus tax- exempt.

Of building the new dorms, Dr. Pestello said, “Under Fr. Biondi’s leadership, there were many investments across the campus. It’s now time that we turn to our residence halls.” At some point SLU must also turn to the properties it has acquired, preferably before it ventures to purchase more. In this way it might give back to the community it claims to serve.