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Readers Weigh in on VCU Expansion

As with much of its Broad Street development, it is great to see VCU bring life into urban areas that need it ("Breaking Boundaries," Cover Story, Feb. 27).

While I wonder how Freedom House is doing since being relocated to underneath an East End bridge, I am glad to see new uses and activity come to this part of Monroe Ward. VCU should also be complimented on the international reputation its growth has brought to the region.

That said, Edwin Slipek Jr.'s review should have been more critical. When VCU originally showed plans for the Monroe Park Campus Addition, Oregon Hill residents politely suggested ways to make them more pedestrian-friendly and less imposing. We reiterated our hope that VCU's administration would join with the neighborhood's efforts to establish the Belvidere Greenway on the western side of the street. It would link the James River Park System with Monroe Park and could go northward to other Richmond neighborhoods and the East Coast Greenway.

Instead, it looks like VCU has concentrated more on rebuilding the old state penitentiary. (Speaking of which, imagine if years ago, instead of being torn down, the historic, dilapidated penitentiary had been renovated and re-adapted for condos; check out Boston's amazing makeover of the old Charles Street Jail.)

Concern was also expressed for boxing in the city's fire station. Oregon Hill's Laurel Street fire station was destroyed by the Expressway dig back in the 1960s, but now even this smaller station is getting squeezed by VCU's runaway growth. The Richmond Fire Department's River Rescue Unit has been forced to relocate to Church Hill. Think about how much precious time that adds to traveling to a rescue on Belle Island or a VCU natatorium. Make no mistake about it, between increased traffic problems and this, VCU is risking blood on its hands.

Community members also made a strong plea for more green building and energy conservation in these buildings. I don't see any evidence of this, which is in remarkable contrast to the green commitments that other major, international universities are making.

It's no secret that American colleges are in an arms race, each trying to outdo the others for prestige and presence. Yet how much of this new development is really helping students? Would not academia be better served by putting more emphasis on better paid and trained faculty, more scholarships and more money for instruction rather than construction?

Scott Burger

I was delighted to read the review of VCU's Monroe Park additions to the cityscape and glad the reviewer found them to be as marvelous as I do. That being said, I was surprised and distressed at one very important omission: the names of the persons who donated the land and building for the VCU BrandCenter: Ken and Dianne Wright.

Were it not for this outright gift, the fabulous new home for the BrandCenter would have taken way longer to come to fruition. Ken and Dianne have been wonderful philanthropic supporters of entities on both campuses of VCU, not to mention other charities throughout Central Virginia. They are modest to a fault, but I do hope you can rectify this oversight because their gift -- like all they make — really made a difference.

In today's economic environment, in order for our public institutions to continue making positive headway, they need all the private support they can get!

Sharon Larkins-Pederson
Senior Gift Planner
MCV Foundation

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