October 20, 2020

Weird Science

Andrea Sisney is a senior journalism major and Editor-in-Chief of The Journal

Has anyone noticed the giant protrusion making its way out of Webster Groves High School? Drive past while you’re trolling the campus for an open parking spot and you can’t miss it — the telltale heavy machinery and piles of building materials confirm a construction project is underway.
It is a construction project costing more than $26 million dollars, to be exact. Yes, the school district broke ground in May to build a 106,000 sq. foot, four-story addition to the historic school building. The new wing will feature bigger classroom spaces for band and art students, room for history  as well as new state-of-the-art science labs.
Wait a minute… science labs? Why does that sound so familiar?
Maybe because Webster University hoped to expand our science building by acquiring land from our neighbor across the street, Eden Seminary. Buying this space would allow our expanding science programs to have new equipment and better labs, which we don’t have room for on our rapidly expanding campus. Anyone exploring the labs on the ground floor of Webster Hall can attest to the poor condition of our science facilities. A much-needed update was planned for the Eden property.
This proposal was met with uproar by Residents for Webster Groves, a group of local activists — many located in Webster Park, right across from our campus — who, “believe Webster University should abide by its approved master plan, respect the community in which they reside as a neighbor, and find a way to build bridges rather than remove homes and threaten neighborhoods,” according to their website.
When Webster began looking into Eden property as a way to bring our science departments up to date, Residents for Webster Groves claimed that not only would an expansion destroy property values for their century homes and create a hideous eyesore for the city — it could attract terrorists.
Yes, everyone hide your kids and hide your wives because al-Qaida is headed to Tree City, Missouri to blow up our university science lab.
The concern stems from the Chemical Facilities Anti-Terrorism standard released by the Department of Homeland Security in 2009, which labeled 330 chemicals hazardous and “of interest” to potential acts of terrorism. Residents for Webster Groves, in a section of their website titled “Some Myths Dispelled,” say that Webster University would need high security past a typical door lock to put the St. Louis area at ease about a  jihad entering their backyards. Yes, the Residents are trying to save us from terrorism, and who can blame them?
So where was that concern in May when WGHS broke ground? I don’t recall any concerned letters to the editor at the Webster-Kirkwood Times or angry city council meetings. In fact, the city passed a bond to pay for the school’s expansion unanimously, and the school board voted on the measure with complete support from the community. Doesn’t sound too concerned to me.
If Webster was building a multi-million dollar science wing, Residents for Webster Groves would show up, chaining themselves to the bulldozers, chanting as they wave “Webster loves bin Laden” signs. But for the high school, they can easily forget their principles. But of course, those weren’t their principles. Those were the excuses. Residents for Webster Groves were never worried about terrorists. They just are just more interested in supporting the local high school than the local university.
Personally, I feel much safer having potentially harmful chemicals in the hands of professors with Ph.D.s and students who are training to enter a professional field of their choice than in the hands of teenagers texting about prom, popping their bubblegum. In high school, science labs are a requirement that many students just want to get over with so they can move out of their parents’ house. Science students at Webster University are serious, they are dedicated and they deserve facilities worthy of the tuition they pay.
Perhaps Residents for Webster Groves should remember how attentive they were at 16, counting the seconds until you were reunited with your friends to gossip at lunch as your teacher drones on about the periodic table and Bunsen burners. If al-Qaida were at all interested in our little community, which requires a certain amount of ego and narrow-mindedness to believe, they may see those students as an easier target.

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