Kendall Kaul, who has lived in Webster Groves his entire life, isn’t pleased about his new neighbor. In December, the Webster University Board of Trustees announced the purchase of a $935,000 university residence at 102 Mason Ave., across the street from Kaul and his family.
“I’ve seen how (the university) has kind of taken over neighborhoods,” said Kaul, who has lived on Mason Avenue for the past six years.
This Wednesday, President Beth Stroble will meet with Kaul and other Webster Park residents to discuss their concerns.
Kaul and his wife, who graduated from Webster approximately 10 years ago with an MBA, became aware of the university’s purchase through Webster Today. Kaul said he believes Webster didn’t announce that they would be moving into the Webster Park neighborhood in hopes that they could move in quietly to avoid upsetting residents.
“(Now) it seems they are starting to show concern to what the neighborhood thinks,” Kaul said.
The main concerns Kaul has about the university purchasing a home center around his children. He said he doesn’t want a traffic problem that could put his kids in danger.
“Now (Webster University) is expanding north,” Kaul said. “Will they want more houses? Fraternity houses? President’s houses are often used for events. How often (will Stroble host guests)?”
Kaul and his wife received a letter from Webster inviting them to attend a lunch on Jan. 25 to discuss concerns after they, along with other members of the Webster park neighborhood, called the university with complaints.
Doug Nissing, president of the Webster Park Association, and Maggie Sowash, a member of Residents for Webster Groves, both said they were uncomfortable making a comment due to ongoing negotiations between residents and the university. Residents for Webster Groves has previously spoken out in complaint against the university’s expanding master plan, which includes a proposed acquisition of land from Eden Seminary.
University spokeswoman Susan Kerth said in a statement to The Journal that Webster has been discussing the purchase of a residence since 2008, and that having housing for university presidents is standard practice. Stroble is meant to move in to the house in March 2012 after renovations, and will use the residence to host events for the school and local community, as well as dignitaries and donors. The purchase will eliminate the housing allowance Stroble formerly received as part of her salary. Kerth said the purchase is an investment expected to save Webster $265,000 over 30 years. In 2011, the taxes on the property were $11,140.
When asked about the Webster Park neighborhood’s reaction to the purchase, Kerth did not comment. The Journal also requested a comment or interview from Stroble, but received no response.
Dennis Golden, president of Fontbonne University, resides in a home on his Clayton campus. Wydown House was purchased when Golden became president in 1995. He said the home has been very beneficial to the work he does.
“The first 15 presidents (of Fontbonne) were all religious women,” Golden said. “There was no presidential house. When I was hired, they were going to give me a housing allowance, but the board owned a house on Wydown. The university renovated it and it became our home six months in (to his presidency.)”
In 1998, the 2,716-square-foot Fontbonne home was appraised for $264,000. Wydown House was most recently valued at $293,700 in February 2011 by the St. Louis County Tax Assessor’s office. Webster’s 3,430-square-foot residence on Mason Avenue was put on the market in May 2011 with an asking price of $1,150,000. The list price was reduced three times before the university’s purchase.
Golden said having a home on campus allows him and his wife to host annual events such as the faculty and staff Christmas party, commencement receptions and open houses for international students. Golden has even taught classes in the Wydown House. He said the home allows him to be visible on campus, as his front door is less than five minutes away from most campus buildings.
“We’ve become a part of the community,” Golden said. “Our neighbors know us personally. It can lessen (our image) which, at times, is too institutional.”
When Fontbonne purchased the home 17 years ago, Golden said the neighborhood held a reception. Though the relationship has had ups and downs as both the neighborhood and the university have expanded and changed, Golden feels his presence has helped create a positive relationship between Fontbonne and Clayton.
“I think Dr. Stroble and her family will benefit immensely from having a house owned by your university,” Golden said. “No one is more capable of building a relationship than she is.”