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First an underpass, now onto the parking garage

By Staff | Sep 9, 2011

Shepherd University announced a couple of weeks ago that it is ready to build a pedestrian underpass at the intersection of WV Route 480 (North Duke Street) and Shepherd Grade.

This is great news. Presently students and others cross 480 there to get from the East Campus to the West Campus. The traverse is dangerous and the underpass is quite necessary.

Now that the underpass is a go, I think we all need to focus entirely on finding the necessary funding for a parking garage on the Shepherd campus. For too long, student parking has overrun Shepherdstown’s business district to the detriment of commerce. Construction of a parking garage will substantially ease that problem.

I’ve always believed it possible for “town and gown” to coexist in Shepherdstown. A parking garage is a necessary ingredient in the mixture that will make that coexistence a happy one.

So why wasn’t the parking garage built before the underpass? Two reasons: safety and money.

The university (and the state of West Virginia, since Shepherd is a state institution) would be potentially legally liable were every effort not made to achieve maximum safety at the 480 crossing. The town of Shepherdstown might also be so liable, since the crossing is within the corporate limits of the town.

The underpass will cost about $4 million, while the parking garage will cost $10 million. Shepherd has through superb fiscal management and an earmark from U.S. Congresswoman Shelley Moore Capito been able to cobble together enough money to pay for the underpass. The parking garage is so expensive as to be presently out of reach.

Congresswoman Capito’s earmark was for $400,000. That’s enough to pay for the design work on the underpass. She says she’s willing to help get an additional grant to defray some more of the cost. The West Virginia Department of Transportation is working on another grant for the same purpose. Any additional money for the underpass will enable Shepherd to put that much money toward the parking garage.

I have been working for a half dozen years to find the necessary funds for the parking garage. In the last three years, I’ve been joined in this effort by State Sen. Herb Snyder and Delegate Tiffany Lawrence. We’ve lobbied our fellow legislators plus Gov. Joe Manchin (before he became a United States Senator) and (now) acting Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin.

The problem is finding a pot of money sufficiently large to do the job from which it is legal to get the money. Often the state provides extra money (outside of an institution’s “base budget”) for capital improvements. But there are rules we must follow.

A few years ago the legislature agreed to a rule proposed by (then) Chancellor of Higher Education Mike Mullen that money the state provides to colleges and universities for capital improvements through the proceeds of bond sales be restricted to “educational” buildings only. What are called “auxilliaries” (stadiums, parking garages, cafeterias, dormitories, field houses, pedestrian overpasses or underpasses, etc.) must now, in Mullen’s words, “float on their own bottom.”

This makes sense for cafeterias or dormitories, for they can easily be made to pay for themselves. But this is not true for a parking garage or a pedestrian underpass. “But (you might ask) cannot the university charge for parking to pay for the garage?” Yes, but practically speaking it cannot charge much more than it’s charging the students for parking now. Merely shifting money now being collected for parking to pay for the garage would mean that something else that money is going to would no longer be funded. What little money would come from increased parking fees would be woefully insufficient.

Since the adoption of that rule almost 10 years ago, the only extra state money given to colleges or universities for capital improvements has been bond money. The building most recently built on the Shepherd campus, Phase I of the Center for Creative Arts, or CCA, was built with bond money from the state. Phase II of the CCA, which will begin soon, is also being paid for with state bond money. The total in bonding for the two is about $24 million (a couple of million in addition was raised via private donations for Phase II).

During the campaign for a referendum permitting table games at the Charles Town Races two years ago, the people of Shepherdstown were told by then-Gov. Manchin that if table games were adopted, he would propose to the legislature that some of that money be guaranteed to Shepherd to build the parking garage. In 2007, at a similar referendum (which was defeated) the voting precinct for the town of Shepherdstown had voted 85 percent to 15 percent against the legalization of table games.

The second time around that Shepherdstown precinct (#33) voted 51 percent to 49 percent in favor of table games. That was the largest percentage turnaround of any precinct in Jefferson County from 2007 to 2009 (when table games were legalized).

I’m confident that Manchin would have delivered on his promise, but shortly after that he was elected to the United States Senate to fill out the remaining years of the term of the late Sen. Robert C. Byrd.

So, we’re back to the proverbial “square one” to find funding for the parking garage. Stay tuned.