West Summit Neighborhood Advisory Committee (WSNAC)


Remembering Doug Hennes: WSNAC’s first meeting of the 2018–19 academic year came only three weeks after founding committee member and longtime Vice President for Government Relations and Special Projects Doug Hennes ’77 died suddenly on July 19, 2018. WSNAC members shared a moment of silence for Hennes and offered tributes to him. “I appreciate that Doug always was such a strong advocate for the University of St. Thomas,” said one. “He focused on the positives that the university does with young people and in the community.”

Neighborhood survey: St. Thomas conducted a random telephone survey in summer 2018 of 400 residents in the Student Housing Overlay District, with a goal, in part, to test the appetite for student housing on Grand Avenue between Cleveland and Finn with possible retail. Among the survey results: 77 percent of respondents were unfamiliar with WSNAC; 73 percent regard the university positively, particularly the education it provides and the campus appearance; concerns about St. Thomas include growth or development (55 people), student behavior (65 people) and lack of on-campus housing (57 people). Seventy-four percent of respondents want the university to build more on-campus housing.

The survey also focused on the height and setback restrictions called for on Grand and Cleveland in the city’s 2004 Conditional Use Permit. A majority of survey respondents supported a five-story building if that allowed for retail — compared with the 40-foot tall building required by the CUP. Some neighborhood members of WSNAC, however, questioned whether survey participants knew about the CUP’s restrictions prior to answering the survey.

On-campus housing: Chief Financial Officer and Vice President for Business Affairs Mark Vangsgard in October unveiled a plan for two new residence halls on north campus, with groundbreaking in spring 2019. Once both buildings open, in fall 2020, the university will have the capacity to house all first- and second-year students on campus. In addition, Brady and Dowling halls for first-year students will undergo summertime renovations beginning in 2019.

The university will move toward a two-year residency requirement for first- and second-year students, to be fully implemented in fall 2022. As Vangsgard explained, students who live on campus their first two years earn higher grades, are more engaged in extra-curricular activities, develop stronger social networks and become more engaged alumni.

  • A $50 million, 440-bed residence hall for first-year students at Selby and Cleveland avenues will replace the 130-bed John Paul II building; it will include full dining facilities for students and the public. Opus Group is the developer.
  • A $35 million, 200-bed residence hall for second-year students near Cleveland and Ashland will replace the Faculty Residence units. Ryan Companies is the developer.
  • Both residence halls are being designed to achieve Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification.

The underground parking ramps will include space for protected bike storage. A loading dock off Selby will accommodate food trucks for the dining hall. St. Thomas is working with the city to maximize the width of sidewalks around the perimeter of campus — similar to its 8-foot-wide sidewalks on campus — to facilitate snow removal and a better pedestrian experience.

All told, the project will provide a net gain of 190,000 square feet of residence halls, 575 beds and 137 parking stalls, for a total cost of $90 million. The campus has about 2,600 beds today.

Chapel expansion: A 23,000-square-foot addition to the Chapel of St. Thomas Aquinas called the Iverson Center for Faith will link the upper and lower quads, serving as a midpoint between residence halls and academic buildings, including the library. An interfaith space will welcome seekers and students of all faith backgrounds, and a 300-seat gathering space will facilitate student engagement. The chapel itself will gain air-conditioning and upgraded lighting, and a tunnel will connect all three projects: the chapel expansion and two new residence halls.

Sustainability at St. Thomas: Amir Nadav, assistant director of campus sustainability, has a charge to “infuse sustainability campus wide” in academics, operations and student affairs. He presented to WSNAC about how, under his leadership, St. Thomas earned a silver rating in the Sustainability Tracking, Assessment & Rating System (STARS), a national standard for assessing sustainability in higher education.

About 920 institutions have participated in STARS since its launch in 2010, including Loyola Chicago, Macalester and Carleton colleges, the University of Minnesota–Twin Cities and Duluth, and Saint John’s University. The rating is valid for three years and focuses heavily on academics, where St. Thomas scored particularly well. The university is aiming to achieve a gold rating within five years and to be carbon neutral by 2035.

Pedestrian safety: Several discussions focused on pedestrian safety on Cretin and on Summit. Cretin, a busy stretch of road that will only get busier with development of the Ford site and the proposed Highway 280 exit onto Cretin from I-94, has only one marked pedestrian crossing (at Dayton) between Summit and Marshall. The tangled intersection at Cretin and Mississippi River Boulevard (MRB) has been a danger point for years.

Ward 4 and city officials acknowledged the range of fixes, starting with painted white lines, at an intersection that threatens safety for pedestrians, bicyclists and drivers alike. Other solutions include a center island to restrict movement; allowing only southbound traffic to turn onto MRB; or restricting vehicular access altogether from Cretin to MRB.

WSNAC also voted unanimously to pay, together with St. Thomas, toward the cost of “consistent zebra striping” where the streets already have white pedestrian lines:

  • Summit Avenue and the Arches crosswalk, east of Finn
  • Summit and Cretin avenues
  • Grand and Cretin avenues (to serve people parking in Anderson Parking Facility)
  • Grand and Finn (on the west side of the crosswalk, to service the Grand-Finn building).

Derby Day: Four student houses registered their Derby Day parties with Neighborhood Relations on Saturday, May 4, and worked with director Amy Gage throughout the day on music volume and other concerns.Commander Paul Ford of the Western District had communicated with student host houses before the event. Landlords were either on-site or in communication. Hockey coach Jeff Boeser, whose players in 1747 Dayton had the biggest challenge with neighbors, consistently emphasizes respectful behavior in the neighborhood and has Gage speak to his team at the start of the academic year. WSNAC co-chair Rachel Westermeyer also worked with a Derby Day party near Summit Avenue as it was breaking up.

Green Move-Out: WSNAC agreed to fund up to $5,000 to help neighborhood houses of seniors (about to graduate) recycle or donate their unwanted furniture, clothing, canned goods, books, electronics and other items. Members of WSNAC and other neighbors worked with six houses of seniors in late May and spent $3,762 on truck rental, gas, food for volunteers and Junk King.

Loras Hall parking lot: After hearing of possible plans to add 41 parking spaces west of Loras Hall on south campus, WSNAC members expressed concern about loss of mature trees, stormwater management and the view from Summit Avenue. The group drafted and approved a statement for St. Thomas to forward to the Housing and Land Use Committee of Macalester-Groveland Community Council, the district council in which the proposed lot would lie.

The statement asked St. Thomas — as it worked with the city on the permitting process — to “obtain additional information” about stormwater remediation and pollution control; a forestry plan and historic preservation plan; a permeable parking surface; and an update on the campus transportation or parking plan for construction workers, students and faculty/staff.