Last updated: July 24. 2013 2:33PM - 220 Views

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Frank Lewis

PDT Staff Writer

Last week, after the City Planning Commission voted to bring forward to Portsmouth City Council a recommendation to close Third Street in Portsmouth, First Ward Councilman Kevin Johnson issued an e-mail with several questions he said remained unanswered. Now, the president of Shawnee State University, Dr. Rita Rice Morris, has responded with a letter to Johnson.

“The University is required to have a Master Plan and has had one since we became a University. The Plan provides a footprint for the University’s growth and conceptual renderings of design and buildings that will help the University meet its programming and growth goals over 20 years. As we move to implement aspects of the Plan we reevaluate them to ensure that they continue to support our mission and meet our needs and then allocate funds to accomplish our goals. As we begin implementation we refine the plan with appropriate entities, including the City, neighbors, utility companies, etc. It should be noted that details of the master plan are often changed during this process,” Morris said.

Morris said in 2007 SSU updated their Plan utilizing the services of a professional planner, Jim Butz of SPGB Architects, and involving the entire university community, City leadership, and community members.

“The Plan reflects our intentions to increase enrollment, provide enhanced living and learning opportunities for our students and tie our campus and campus community more closely to Portsmouth City Schools and Portsmouth’s downtown. Two years ago we decided to move ahead with the plan to close Third Street as we dealt with the need to accommodate an exploding enrollment, the need to provide a safer campus, the desire to have a cohesive campus environment, and the need to begin the process to site, plan for, and secure funds, for a new classroom/laboratory building,” Morris said. “As we have pursued the plan to close Third Street we again talked with our neighbors and City offices and the Mayor, and had an independent traffic engineer conduct a study of the potential impact of the change. As you know, we conducted a second study that incorporated questions you, and others, asked to be addressed. That study is completed. We have worked with our neighbors to revise our plans to address issues that were identified in the study, allocated funds to address those issues should our request to close Third Street be closed, and modified our own campus-based plans to accommodate the allocation of funds to these needs. This has been a comprehensive, resource intensive, and transparent process conducted in the context of increased demand to expand the campus, and resource challenges.”

With regard to Johnson’s specific questions, Morris wrote:

1. SSU does not have a right of first refusal with First Christian Church. The concept of “softening” the turn from Third to Gay was intended to more closely link the University to downtown. However, it will be a very expensive change requiring extensive work with ODOT and the Church. When we reach the point where we want to pursue that aspect of the Plan, such an agreement is entirely possible.

2. The current Master Plan does not have Third and Gay as the “gateway” to the University.

3. The current Master Plan calls for a footprint for the University that is bounded on the North by Fourth Street, on the West by Chillicothe Street, on the South by the floodwall, and on the East by Offnere. The Plan also includes a small area on Chillicothe and accommodates our leasing of space on the north side of Fourth Street. The West, South, and East boundaries were in the original Master Plan and were not changed in the 2007 Plan.

4. I imagine that the University Facilities Committee, and now the University Resource Committee, have reviewed the Master Plan several times as they were integral in the development of the current Plan. As I noted above, we routinely review the Plan as we make decisions about implementing aspects of it.

Morris ended her response with:

“Kevin, I am confused by these questions. The Master Plan was developed in consultation with City leadership, we discussed it in public meetings when we finalized it, and we have provided copies of the Plan to the City, several Mayors, and several City offices. Butch Kotcamp has reviewed these plans in Traffic and Planning Commission meetings you have attended and the Master Plan is on the University’s web site. They are not a secret and the University has strived to be transparent in its planning processes by involving the City and the Community in its long-term planning, sharing information with entities that will likely be impacted by such planning, and revisiting the Master Plan and its potential impacts at every state of implementation. I hope this information meets your needs.”

Frank Lewis may be reached at 740-353-3101, ext. 252, or at flewis@civitasmedia.com.

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