By Dave Buck, a resident of Webster Groves
There is factual evidence Webster University’s leasing of Eden Theological Seminary’s unused space will be temporary, not permanent.
As stated on page 10 of Webster’s Comprehensive Master Plan (dated September 2012), a key driver is to grow its undergraduate population to 5,000 students over the next 10-15 years, up from the current 3,000.
Except for the five-acre parcel of Eden property the university already owns, which includes the Luhr Building, White House and Wehrli Center, the master plan details no further permanent university expansion or use of the Eden campus.
All new student classrooms and housing to accommodate this projected student increase will be constructed on Webster’s main campus south of Lockwood Ave.
Additionally, on page 36, the master plan calculates that 15 acres of future redevelopment land are within the main campus. This further reinforces more permanent university expansion or use of the Eden campus is not needed.
From 1997 to 2005, Webster leased classroom space and computer labs at Webster Groves High School for late afternoon and evening classes. The university’s use of this space was not permanent, but only temporary until new classroom space could be built on the main campus. When this construction was completed, the university moved out and has not returned since.
During the Sept. 18 Webster Groves City Council public hearing, Mayor Gerry Welch specifically asked Webster about its intended plans and use of Eden’s unused space.
The Journal reported Webster University President Elizabeth Stroble took to the podium and responded), “If we could use available housing, it would certainly let off some steam (excess housing students) while we finish projects on campus.”
Stroble’s response is exactly how the university utilized space at the high school, further reinforcing that Webster’s intended use of Eden’s empty space is temporary, not permanent.
Given this irrefutable factual evidence, Webster, Eden and City Council should be able to find common ground and reach a win-win compromise on the new educational zoning regulations.
They could include an agreement, signed by all three parties, for Webster to lease Eden’s empty space for a pre-determined time period until the university’s Master Plan projects are finished and students can return to the main campus.