PDT Staff Writer
Shawnee State University officials want to have Third Street between Gay Street and Waller Street permanently closed by “move in” date, which is August 15, 2013. That timeframe could not be settled on until the city of Portsmouth made the closing of that stretch of street official, and they did just that Monday night. By a unanimous 5-0 vote (Council President Steve Sturgill was absent), Portsmouth City Council decided to accommodate the future growth of Shawnee State University by permanently closing the street.
Director of Communications for SSU, Elizabeth Blevins, issued a statement on behalf of the university.
“Tonight’s decision will have a tremendous impact on our community for years to come. We thank the council members, the Mayor and our community for their support of our continued growth at Shawnee State and for their commitment to economic development in the region. We will immediately begin working with the city to develop an acceptable time line of notices, events, and improvements that need to take place leading up to the permanent closure of Third Street by the time students move in for fall semester on August 15. After that, we will begin discussions and planning on needed classroom and laboratory facilities that will accommodate increased numbers of students. That planning may now include possible site locations for a new academic building and funding sources for such a facility.”
The controversial action has dominated the discussions at Council meetings over much of the last year, since SSU officials made the request. On numerous occasions, Facilities Director Butch Kotcamp, with the help of John Carey, Assistant to the President for Governmental Relations and Strategic Initiatives and Blevins, made presentations focusing on the university’s master plan.
“We’re extremely excited about the opportunity for the future expansion of Shawnee State University,” Kotcamp said after Council passed the measure. “Being a part of the Second Street venture, I think we can look forward to expanding our campus and creating jobs and educating the young people in our area. It’s just an exciting time for us. And we will get started here very soon.”
First Ward Councilman Kevin Johnson had requested answers to several questions concerning the effect the closing would have on various segments of the public, including access to the Social Security office on Fourth Street, but in recent months had expressed to Council and the public that he felt most of the questions had been answered. Meanwhile, Kotcamp had pledged that the university would work with the city to solve any unforeseen consequences from the move.
“They’re still going to have to go through our planning commission. There is still going to be a step-by-step process,” Johnson said prior to the vote. “Any changes made to any street, they’re going to have to go through a process. This does not mean that we’ve given carte blanche for the university to take off and do things.”
The move was a controversial one as several citizens had repeatedly objected to the closing for a series of reasons ranging from a possible traffic jam from the U.S. Grant Bridge to Fourth Street — which would become the new thoroughfare in that area — to problems with access to the Social Security office and First Christian Church, to danger to children going to and from schools in the Portsmouth City School District. However, concerning the latter issue, PCSD Superintendent Scott Dutey, removed all doubt at to where the school system stood on the issue when he announced that body’s endorsement.
In the end, no Council member offered an objection and the vote came quickly.
Frank Lewis may be reached at 740-353-3101, ext. 252, or at firstname.lastname@example.org. For breaking news, follow Frank on Twitter @FrankLewisPDT.