At a public hearing Monday night, the Greenville Planning Commission approved two requests from Greenville University as the school plans a building project.
The commission’s recommendations will go to the Greenville City Council for a final decision.
Commission Chairman Jack Chism provided information about the requests, pointing out GU would like to vacate a portion of First Street and an alley to the east of First Street. Those sections run north to south, between Oak Street and College Avenue. The purpose of the request is for the construction of a new 248-bed dormitory and classrooms for GU’s new nursing program. The university already owns all properties on the block adjacent to First Street. The request states partnering with St. John’s School of nursing necessitated the project for GU.
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City of Greenville staff recommended the requests be approved.
Breck Nelson, representing the university, said more about the project, reporting the university is seeing an increase in enrollment. He said there is an immediate need for the bed space at the university. He said some of the beds will be replacing ones in older homes and dorms that students currently live in. He said the new residence hall will show respect for the students living in those properties and will also help keep the university competitive with what students see at other institutions.
Nelson said the project will also drive economic development into the community as the location will prompt students to visit the downtown area more. He also said there is a hope the project will lead to more additional industries, such as sit-down restaurants and shopping, to town.
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Approximately 30 individuals attended the hearing. Thirteen made comments and four emails were read from residents. The vast majority of them supported the requests.
The proposed building would front College Avenue, with the west part of it on First Street and the east part on or along the alley. Entrances would be parallel to College Avenue and on the southeast edge of the building.
Nelson said the Kaufmann Building, along College Avenue will be torn down. He indicated decisions are being made as to what other structures will go. Nelson told WGEL the university wants to save as many buildings as it can on that block.
The university does not own the historic Northcott House at the intersection of College Avenue and Prairie Street. During the hearing, concerns were expressed about fire equipment being able to set up properly in case of a fire. It was mentioned the new building would have a sprinkler system.
Several individuals, including a few on the commission, commented they were concerned that future plans call for North Second Street, from College to Oak, to be closed for a downtown plaza, and the university’s request is to close the North First Street block. Questions were raised about response times by emergency units if the two blocks are closed, and there were concerns about the public’s access to other businesses.
Nelson said work is continuing on the plans and many items brought up will be addressed as Greenville University strives to be a community player.
The motion to approve the university’s requests to vacate a portion of First Street and the alley was approved 5-0. Voting for it were Chism, Brent Shaw, Blake Knox, Dennis Warren and Chance Vohlken. Nelson’s wife, Janie, is also on the commission and abstained from voting.