One of us has lived in Shepherdstown for about 50 years, the other not so long. During that entire time, parking by students has been a problem for both the university and the town of Shepherdstown.
As the university has grown from about 800 students in 1960 to 4,300 today, this problem has increased exponentially. Merchants in downtown Shepherdstown lose business because students park where customers need to. And many residents find it more difficult to park near their homes than they should. It’s a serious problem and we’ve both been working hard to solve it.
Many believe that while there is enough parking on the Shepherd campus already for the commuter population (about 2/3 of all students), many of those spaces are located where commuters will not use them. This is an urban myth.
That used to be true. Spaces in the large lot just west of the Frank Arts Center went unused. Not anymore. Because of its popularity in our community, Shepherd’s state-of-the-art Wellness Center now fills that lot on a regular basis.
To clear up any misunderstanding, Shepherd University is committed to building a parking garage for approximately 500 cars as soon as funding can be found. While this will not completely solve the problem, it will put a very large dent in it.
The prevailing popular choice of location for a garage is the site now occupied by Sara Cree Hall. That building is scheduled for demolition now that the new theater in the Center for Contemporary Arts is complete and the Wellness Center has replaced the athletic venues previously located in Sara Cree. At this location, the garage could divert many cars coming across the Potomac River before they reach either High Street or German Street. Current discussion is underway about other services the site could contain, such as food service and a student center.
A garage at this location would not only ease the traffic and parking problems during regular class hours, but at other times as well. It would provide parking for the sporting events, presentations, forums and artistic performances that happen only steps away.
The greatest hurdle to building this much-needed facility is funding. Simply put, the university doesn’t have the $12 million that just the garage portion would cost. We’ve been working with state officials to find the money through the years, presenting multiple plans and some pretty creative schemes, but to no avail. It’s a difficult hurdle, but we’re committed to succeed.
Many readers will already know that Shepherd is moving to open an education center in Martinsburg. The purpose of this center is to provide junior, senior and master’s level college education for so-called “nontraditional” students. These are people who work full time and want to continue their education without leaving or reducing their employment.
Most of the students who take courses at the Martinsburg Center will be new to Shepherd, full-time workers who didn’t think it possible to complete a degree without the added convenience we will now offer. But some of the students now commuting to Shepherd on a part-time basis for graduate and some undergraduate courses may choose to take courses in Martinsburg instead. This could offset the growth anticipated in residential students over the coming years, which may average 1 to 2 percent.
Because Shepherd is a state university and is by state law essentially an open-admission institution, the university will likely grow as our area is one of the few parts of the state that is growing. And Shepherd is attractive because by any objective standard it is one of the best performing open-admission small universities, public or private, in the country.
The facilities planning process now underway seeks to make the campus more attractive to students who want to live on campus. If that succeeds, we will see less commuter traffic through the town. That is why, in addition to a parking garage and strong student services, the plan will add more (and more attractive) student housing and lovely, walkable pathways across campus. We look forward to the years ahead, where our already lovely historic campus will become an ever better neighbor to the delightful community of Shepherdstown. We know that with good planning and the right decisions, Shepherd can become attractive to students and townspeople alike!
— John Doyle retired from the House of Delegates in 2012. Suzanne Shipley is president of Shepherd University.