In July 2003, the Grand Island Public Schools board of education asked the Grand Island City Council to close College Street. Then-councilman Fred Whitesides spoke for many people when he wondered, “Why are we being asked this again? We’ve been asked this in the past and voted against it every time.”
The controversy about closing a portion of College Street stretches back nearly 40 years. In 1978, the school board approached the City Council for the first time and was turned away. In 1990, a student-pedestrian was struck by a car on College Street and broke a leg. In 1998 speed humps were discussed, and in 2003 Whitesides was frustrated about the resurrected issue. In 2010 the street was temporarily closed for a traffic study.
The 39-year-old discussion weighs school safety and expansion against resident convenience, and on Thursday night at the board of education meeting, the district announced plans to again introduce a motion to the City Council.
GIPS Chief Financial Officer Virgil Harden and Buildings and Grounds Director Dan Petsch said 2017’s proposal is different.
Capital Avenue improvement
The proposal is propelled by an enhanced Capital Avenue and new investments in the Grand Island Senior High campus.
Harden said the city’s plans to widen Capital Avenue allowed the roadway to absorb the relocation of traffic from a closed section of College Street. Additionally, he hopes the City Council will see the investment being made in Memorial Stadium and realize the district’s dedication to the GISH campus.
Harden also said the district has a plan in hand for the first time and he hopes it will strengthen the request.
The district proposes replacing the southern portion of the street between Lafayette and Custer with a green space, and placing stop signs at the intersection of College and Lafayette. Sidewalks would connect Memorial Stadium to the locker rooms in the school.
“We want to build a sense of unity and cohesion in our campus,” Harden said. “And imbedded in that is safety for our students as pedestrians.”
As GISH’s enrollment climbs, administration has voiced a need for the campus’ expansion and definition. Harden said closing College Street could help create the environment a class A high school requires.
“We want the campus to look like an island,” he said. “We want visitors to be able to identify that this is a campus.”
Harden recognized the impact of closing part of College Street. A street closure would shift traffic north to Capital Avenue or south to State Street, and he said he realized how it could inconvenience residents.
“We have to understand what kind of sacrifice we are asking people to make,” he said.
Harden and Petsch said if the City Council approves the proposal, changes to College Street could be made as soon as next summer.
Councilman Chuck Haase, who represents the ward that contains College Street, said he hadn’t seen the new proposal but he would be open to listening to the district. In the past, he said, the district seemed to address concerns about emergency medical services vehicles, traffic flow and parking with “off the cuff” answers, so he would be looking forward to the district responding to those issues.