Rather than fight to come to Belleville, Christian school says it’ll go where it’s wanted

In the wake of the Belleville zoning board’s rejection of Gateway Legacy Christian Academy’s request to lease the women’s dorm at Lindenwood University-Belleville, the private school has decided to drop its plan to move to Belleville and find another location in the St. Louis metro area.

Gateway and Lindenwood officials told the city on Friday that they were pulling their request, which had tentatively been scheduled to be heard by the City Council on Monday night. The zoning board’s decision last month is a recommendation and the Belleville City Council would have had the final say on the issue.

But a Gateway spokeswoman said the college prep school, which offers boarding for international students, has received multiple calls regarding other possible sites and school leaders decided not to go to the City Council meeting on Monday.

“At this point we’ve had several people reach out to us because they want us to come to their community because they’ve seen a glimpse, the tip of the iceberg of what we can do,” said Jackie Duty, the chief international development director for Gateway.

“And we’re getting a lot of people asking us to come to them so as much as we want to come to Belleville and build it, we have to weigh all our options and make a decision on how we move forward.”

The dorm on South 23rd Street is available because Lindenwood has announced that it is ending its undergraduate program after this school year is finished in May.

Duty called the Lindenwood campus a “perfect” fit for Gateway, which wants to expand from 200 high school students to 800 and eventually could have bought the entire campus from Lindenwood.

If Gateway had taken over the campus at 2600 W. Main St., it would have been a familiar sight to Belleville residents since the campus was the home for Belleville Township and then Belleville West High School for over 80 years. After the new Belleville West was built off Frank Scott Parkway, Lindenwood took the former high school campus.

Zoning board decision

The city’s Zoning Board of Appeals voted 6-1 on July 25 to deny Gateway’s request to use the women’s dorm.

The decision came after several local citizens, law enforcement officials and public and private school administrators raised concerns about the quick timeline on which the university and private high school planned to operate, and that residents did not want to see the university “piecemealing” parts of the campus out.

Mayor Mark Eckert said the city also had questions about whether high school students could be on the same campus as college students.

“That was a concern,” Eckert said Monday night. “That was a unique proposal and I think it did catch us, you know, that we were kind of concerned how they were going to present that, what safeguards they were” going to use.

“We didn’t have those details because nobody ever came to us and really explained how they were going to package that up.”

Duty said Monday night that the students would have worn uniforms and that Gateway staffers would have escorted the high students from the dorm to their classrooms.

The only time the high school students would have been in the same room with college students would have been in the cafeteria during this school year, Duty said.

Eckert said the letter Gateway and Lindenwood officials sent the city on Friday did not explain why they did not want to be on the City Council agenda.

Gateway Legacy’s plans

Gateway Legacy was co-founded by Greg and Melissa Morrison. It features an elementary school in Glen Carbon and previously the boarding students lived in Granite City.

The high school tuition is $25,500 but room and board along with other costs bring the total to $37,600 for international students, according to the school’s website. Duty said Gateway offers scholarships.

Duty said along with the school in Belleville, Gateway had plans for a community center, a business incubator and a foster care program.

And in the long term, the Morrisons want to open a research hospital.

“Pastor Greg and Melissa are visionaries and it’s always been their passion to help a community and build a community,” Duty said. “They love kids. It’s incredible the things they want to do.

“Their heart is to build a research hospital and bring in the best and the brightest from around the world to really build these things that could change a community and change the world and all we wanted was an opportunity to tell a story, to show everyone how we are more than a school.”

BND reporter Hana Muslic contributed information for this article.
Mike Koziatek joined the Belleville News-Democrat in 1998 as an assistant editor and is now a reporter covering the Belleville area. He graduated from Marquette University in Milwaukee and grew up in St. Louis.