Home » Education »Featured »Planning & Design »Religion » Currently Reading:

Edwardsville School Board Considering $1.3 Million for Elementary School Parking Lot, Razing Historic Church

March 4, 2014 Education, Featured, Planning & Design, Religion 10 Comments

Parking is a perceived issue all over the region, even in small towns like Edwardsville IL. The public school district is considering purchasing a historic church, and an adjacent house owned by the church, to create more parking for Columbus elementary school:

The general terms of the proposed sale, which are all subject to approval by both the First Presbyterian Church congregation and the District 7 Board of Education, are that the district will pay First Presbyterian Church $1.3 million from impact fees over a 10-year period. Impact fees are money collected from developers who build homes in Edwardsville and Glen Carbon. The fees can only be used for new construction or the purchase of property.

The other terms of the negotiation are that First Presbyterian Church would have four years to vacate the existing church facility, and the church would be responsible for preparing the ground to leave a clean, level site. (District 7 looks to turn church into parking lot)

The $1.3 million is just for the land, it’ll cost more to actually develop the parking lot.

Columbus Elementary just east of Main Street in downtown Edwardsville, click for map
Columbus Elementary just east of Main Street in downtown Edwardsville, click for map
Graphic showing staff parking (left) and parent parking (right)    Source: Edwardsville Intelligencer, click for story
Graphic showing staff parking (left) and parent parking (right)
Source: Edwardsville Intelligencer, click for story

A friend drove me over to Edwardsville last week so I could check it out in person. What we found is the school has a small parking lot for staff, a large asphalt playground, and has use of a couple of small parking lot owned by the church. No doubt when the church has a weekday event, like a funeral, parking gets tight. Otherwise both appear to have coexisted for decades.

Looking west on College, the church-owned lot on the left wasn't full at 9:15am last Thursday morning
Looking west on College, the church-owned lot on the left wasn’t full at 9:15am last Thursday morning
Back parking lot of school appeared full
Back parking lot of school appeared full
Parking on school grounds on the west side of the building was completely vacant
Parking on school grounds on the west side of the building was completely vacant

I don’t live in Edwardsville, nor am I a parent, so I turned to the Edwardsville School District 7 Parents group on Facebook to see the discussion. There were several postings, here’s some quotes I selected from hundreds:

Feb 26: “Anyone know why Columbus needs a $1.3 million parking lot? More than say, teams, all tenth graders on campus, enough honors classes, a daily middle school band/orchestra program?” — LW

“because there is ZERO parking at the school and the church next door was kind enough to let the school “share” their parking lot. The church is moving and the new owners may not be as accommodating!” — LC 

“We always parked in that lot…..sad to see the church go…I went to preschool in that church” — JG

“The church isn’t moving unless the building is purchased. We’ve always worked with the district for parking and that’s not a big deal. My ‘big deal’ is a $1.3 million parking lot. I have a 7th grader who can’t have team teaching or have band every day because there’s no money, a junior who spent 40 minute a day last year being transported off campus because there weren’t enough classrooms, and it makes no sense financially. If there’s money to buy property and or build something with, maybe an addition to the high school would be a goal to look toward.” — LW

Feb 26: “Is it true that the Presbyterian Church property was assessed at $750,000? If so, wouldn’t that lend one to believe that the tax payers are indeed paying for demolition?” — TM

It appears the parents in the district are split; some say the parking situation is poor, while others say parking has always been bad but the district has higher priorities. I do know the school & church have managed to share parking in the area for years but it the church is razed much of the parking will sit empty each day.

This is all possible because some members of the dwindling congregation at the First Presbyterian Church of Edwardsville want to build a new church nearly 4 miles away. This isn’t new, they bought 28+ acres of farmland in January 2000, paying $390,000. In November 2006 I posted how they voted to build on the farmland.

The future church location is on the far east edge of town, away from downtown and the new sprawl shopping.
The future church location is on the far east edge of town, away from downtown Edwardsville and their new shopping area. Click image to view map.
The church hopes to sell 20 acres to partially  fund the new building on the remaining land
The church hopes to sell 20 acres to partially fund the new building on the remaining land
First Presbyterian was founded in 1819, moved to this site in 1885. The current building was dedicated on the same site in 1924.
First Presbyterian was founded in 1819, moved to this site in 1885. The current building was dedicated on the same site in 1924.

Attendance at the church has reportedly dropped in the 7 years since voting to proceed with the plan to build a new church.  I can see the church agreeing to sell  — but in four years still not having a new building ready. Then what? Also, does the school district not have more pressing building needs?

— Steve Patterson


Currently there are "10 comments" on this Article:

  1. JZ71 says:

    One, you don’t see the “need” for the reasons you noted – you don’t live there, you didn’t drive yourself there and you don’t have kids who attend the school. The people who do see the need probably don’t see a “need” to spend millions of dollars on curb ramps or bike lanes in downtown St. Louis, either – perception is greatly colored by how close you are to the “problem” on a daily basis!

    Two, this proposal is more than just a “parking lot”, it includes expanded bus and parent drop-off lanes, as well. Times change – 50 years ago we didn’t have soccer moms, mini-vans, helicopter parents, a heightened level of stranger danger and shrinking public school transportation budgets. 50 years ago, most kids either walked to their elementary school or rode the school bus. Today, a large and increasing number are dropped off and picked up by one of their parents twice a day – there’s a real need to accommodate this change in lifestyle, on site. Otherwise, it’s going to happen on the surrounding public streets, and not well or as safely as it would with this plan. Your photos show what’s happening at 9:15, when all the kids are in class. The scenes would be very different had you been there between 7:30 and 8:00 am and/or between 2:30 and 3:30 in the afternoon!

    Finally, the undercurrent that the church “needs” to stay where it’s been located for 125+ years. Using that logic, you’d still be living in a subdivision in Oklahoma City and the loft you now live in would still be a functioning factory. Times change, people change, how people live their lives changes and the built environment evolves to reflect these changes. I get it, there are a lot of cool, old buildings around here. It would be great if we could “save” every one of them (except the ones that are “not cool”, that have drive-thru’s ), but we can’t – the best we can hope for is sympathetic changes, changes that respect what’s already here. The challenge is that we will never, ever, have a community-wide consensus about what is truly “right”. You and I will each see stuff that we like and agree with and you and I will see stuff that we don’t like, don’t understand and don’t agree with. It’s called life – embrace it!

    • It was upset Edwardsville residents & former residents that brought this to my attention.

      • JZ71 says:

        And do they have kids who currently attend the school? Do they live nearby (and are having to put up with the traffic on a daily basis)? Or, are they like you, living nowhere nearby and remembering how “things used to be”? I’ve been on both sides of issues like this one, and it seems like the loudest voices against “improvements” / “change” are the ones who don’t have to deal with the problems every day and/or don’t want “their taxes wasted” on anything that they, personally, “won’t ever use”.

        • FPCE51 says:

          JZ seems to know intimate details about the parking lot plan- even more than the church congregation- who just 2 weeks ago found out this was the fate of their church. The whole scene has been approached very quietly and with a complete lack of transparency. That’s unacceptable. It has nothing to do with not ’embracing life’. It has to do with a congregation that is strongly divided with many having no desire to leave this location, especially when they can’t even fill the seats each week.

          • JZ71 says:

            So don’t sell! It sounds like this church is struggling (“when they even fill the seats each week”), like many other older congregations are, and the maintenance costs continue to creep up. I understand the desire to hold onto the old place, but downsizing to a newer, lower-maintenance place may be way more affordable, in the long run, for the remaining (few?) parishioners. The only other alternative is to grow the congregation, fill the seats and get revenues back up to the point where the old structure CAN be maintained! (And remember, any “church” is the people who congregate, not the place they meet in.)

            All I “know” about the specifics here is what this post shows – see the second photo showing a vacated street and two new drop-off lanes, one for buses and one for parents – but I’ve seen this dynamic repeated many times in many other locations. And, yes, this is pretty typical, suburban-scale, elementary school site planning these days, so I’m not surprised by the “lack of transparency”, up to this point. I’ve dodged idiot parents around schools in established parts of south city, so I’m truly conflicted about doing something like this to an established urban neighborhood – the school’s priorities ARE different than the neighbors’.

  2. JZ71 says:

    Churches and football stadiums are a lot alike – they’re mostly used, heavily, once a week (or less) and most users drive (and don’t walk). And unlike 30 or 40 years ago, they both end up being used more on different days of the week than they used to (not just Sundays), so sharing parking with office uses has become more problematic. Given that dynamic, it seems to make more sense, in the 21st century, to shift these uses out to the urban fringe so that other, more appropriate, more-heavily-used (on a daily basis) uses can remain in the denser, urban cores.

    I seriously doubt that the school board, here, “wants” to spend several million dollars to build more parking and better drop-off facilities. They’re doing so for two reasons, one, to better “protect” their students, and, two, to preserve the existing school structure, both for sentimental reasons and because (in their estimation) it still has many years of functional use left. (A third reason could also be “land banking”, acquiring adjoining property for future growth plans, much like SLU has.) And the other two alternatives are probably even less palatable to the residents of Edwardsville, buying up (and tearing down) adjacent residential properties or building a new school out in the cornfields, with plenty of room for everything and no compromises (other than location).

  3. Steven says:

    I don’t like any of this — a parking lot makes me sad. But consider this: a lot of school districts, rather than keeping schools in existing buildings, opt to build new buildings away from the center. That’s a scenario I do not want, either. Schools today have a lot of folks driving and dropping off/picking up their kids. Edwardsville is expanding rapidly. The older parts of town are becoming more “childless,” and the kids attending are living more and more away from the center. I don’t particularly like this trend.

    Now, $1.3 million for it?? That’s the real story here. Who on the school board is a member of that church and knows the church needs the money to move?? That’s where this story ought to be — because this is all too common.

    • Shandi says:

      I don’t have any ties to Edwardsville, but in reading the article, it appears that the $1.3 million is just for the land. Demolition and actually turning it into a parking lot will be an added expense. Wow. After reading this article, I can see both side of the arguments. It will be interesting to see what happens.

  4. Hey, my post-college apartment was just a block from there! From 2007-2009 or thereabouts, my roommate and I would go make use of the school’s basketball hoops regularly. Memories…

    I don’t ever remember seeing an over-abundance of cars lined up on Kansas or College on weekday mornings for school, and I arrived back from work in downtown STL (via the 16X) well after school had ended. There’s a funeral home right there too, and I never really noticed any meaningful congestion when it was in use either.

    I think a lot of students do arrive here by foot, or at least a fair amount, as many passed my sidewalk on mornings with parents.

    With that said, if the church is fine with it (and there’s no Historic Designation) and the school is on board, hard to stop that wheel from rolling. I’m sure the City will insist on some sort of soundwall or tree line (or both) on the Kansas Street side.

    Man, now I’m getting nostalgic for that old apartment. Can’t underestimate the value of being “stumble home” distance from some great main street bars and restaurants. Nor the value of having a transit link to downtown STL a couple blocks away.

    • Adam says:

      what better way to take advantage of those short distances and proximity to transit than by leveling density for surface parking? am i right?


Comment on this Article: