Tasteful new signs, a bounty of flowers, attractive historic structures and a few not-so-attractive buildings adorn Ottawa University’s campus. A long-term capital campaign aims to raise funds for the renovation and expansion of the 142-year-old private college. The impressive plan is designed to prepare the college for today’s and tomorrow’s growing student populations.
Expansion requires a well-thought, long-term strategy. OU’s strategy begins with a new combination library/student union and residence hall. That multi-year plan begins with a small parking lot. The parking lot will help alleviate a shortage of parking on the north side of the campus and, despite including traditional parking spaces on a cement lot, it also works to serve up historic Tauy Jones Hall, 403 E. Ninth St., as the crown jewel of the campus — complete with a median of beautiful landscaping and a plan that frames the building as if one were driving up to a palace.
The initial presentation didn’t adequately show all the other alternative locations the university considered for the parking lot. The next meeting to address the proposed parking lot is expected to do so with a PowerPoint on the other sites considered and the reasons those didn’t adequately work.
Ottawa City Commissioners, at the behest of the Kansas State Historical Society, must declare that all prudent and feasible alternatives have been considered before the green space in front of the nearly 150-year old building can be converted into a combination of parking and landscaping to complement the setting. Tauy Jones Hall is on the National Register of Historic Places. Ottawa Planning and Codes Enforcement staff recommended approval of the parking lot plan in its original form, though version three will be on display at Wednesday’s second public hearing on the matter.
Commissioners should approve the university’s desire to move forward with this plan. The third version of the parking lot plan clearly shows the historic building in its best light and is part of a much bigger plan that needs to move forward for the benefit of the university and the community. It would be unfortunate to see the university face such scrutiny every time it wants to make an improvement. Many criticizing OU’s changes don’t have the benefit of seeing the university’s plan in its entirety.
At a time when many colleges are switching to online learning, Ottawa is fortunate to have a traditional college campus that serves as a major employer for the area as well as a true quality of life enhancement and economic development tool. Those who would suggest that the university hasn’t done its own proverbial homework to ensure it is putting its best plan forward — one that truly enhances the university’s environs — underestimates the university’s intent and ongoing expenses to make the campus be the very best it can be.
The community and city commissioners need look no further than any entrance to the OU campus to know the university consistently makes significant investments in its campus with each being an improvement over previous ones. The proposed parking lot is no different. Commissioners should approve the request without further delay, lest they be blocking as much traffic on neighboring streets north of the university as students customarily do every day classes are in session.
— Jeanny Sharp,
editor and publisher