Jamie Williams dreaded the thought of college kids moving into homes in his neighborhood near Lindenwood University-Belleville.
“Originally I was really against it,” said Williams, who lives at the corner of North 20th and West A streets. “I thought it was going to cause … problems with kids and drinking and drugs and loudness and all those classical things you might be worried about with college kids.”
But now his opinion is a “complete 180” and he supports Lindenwood’s expansion. “I am a huge proponent of it now,” said Williams, who is an EMT. “I’ve had nothing but good dealings with every one of the kids.”
While Williams, 45, enjoyed having Lindenwood students live across the street from his 108-year-old brick home, Debbie Verges, who also lives near the intersection of North 20th and West A streets, said she’s relieved the students have left the area for the summer.
“If you drive down our street now, when they’re on break, (you) notice how quiet everything is,” said Verges, who moved to the neighborhood about 15 years ago into the home her grandparents had since World War II. “You don’t have the cars and the subwoofers. You don’t find all the trash and the beer cans. It’s an entirely different environment.
“And we can park in front of our houses now,” Verges said. “It’s unbelievable the difference.”
On Wednesday night, Williams, Verges and other area residents will have a chance to voice their opinion during the annual town hall meeting the city of Belleville required the university to host “well before” a new school year begins to address concerns raised by area residents.
The meeting will be at 6:30 p.m. in the Union Elementary School cafeteria at 20 S. 27th St.
I couldn’t be more on the front line as to what most of the complaints are and I think the kids need somebody to stand up for them be a witness to the true accounts of what’s actually happening, which is nothing.
Jamie Williams, who lives near Lindenwood University-Belleville students
Belleville aldermen in November asked the school to hold the meeting as one of the conditions of approving the school’s application for special-use permits to allow students to live in over 50 homes and apartment buildings the school purchased near the campus at 2600 W. Main St.
Lindenwood leaders will give a presentation and the public will have a chance to speak.
“We’ll be talking about what our students have accomplished this year, what the university has accomplished, what contributions and collaborations we’ve had with the city, with charities, with schools,” said Angela Wingo-Rust, the dean of students for Lindenwood.
“Basically just giving a great overview of what this academic year has been for us.”
“We have a mission and we have a goal and that is to be a quality educational institution for these young people and to be good partners with the community that has embraced us,” Wingo-Rust said. “We have a commitment and we have loyalty toward the city of Belleville and its residents but we’re not going to let negativity get in the way either of us serving the mission to our students.”
Wingo-Rust said the school is taking bids from contractors to have fire-suppression sprinklers installed in 54 homes and apartment buildings purchased by the school and the paving of four gravel lots is expected to be finished by Wednesday. These will have numbered spots assigned to students. A total of 35 to 40 sites will be paved in the next two years, she said.
Also, she said the security department now has seven full-time employees and it will top out at 11 or 12 over the next 18 months.
Lindenwood is phasing out the Cops for Credit program, which “was a fabulous initiative that really benefited the law enforcement community as well as Lindenwood,” Wingo-Rust said. Officers in the program can take classes in exchange for providing security. But Wingo-Rust said school is dropping the program because of changes in federal wage and student employment rules.
Williams said he plans on attending the town hall meeting.
“I’ll speak on behalf the kids,” he said. “I couldn’t be more on the front line as to what most of the complaints are and I think the kids need somebody to stand up for them be a witness to the true accounts of what’s actually happening, which is nothing.”
Williams said one of his student neighbors just left town to enter Navy SEAL training. He said the students would talk about their families, future military careers, baseball, grades, religion and their sense of duty.
Williams, who moved to the neighborhood in 2008, also noted that crime in the neighborhood has dropped since Lindenwood began buying houses in the area. People were dealing drugs behind his garage, he found stolen purses in his garbage and strangers approached his daughter and asked her for money, he said.
I feel we’re that we’re being more or less pitted against each other by not only the administration but at times City Hall and it shouldn’t be that way. We should be able to get along.
Debbie Verges, who lives near Lindenwood students
Since area residents began attending City Council meetings last fall to air complaints about students in their neighborhoods, the residents often would say they supported the university’s decision to open a campus in the old Belleville West High School in 2003.
And Verges echoes that feeling.
She wanted the town hall meeting to be held before the spring semester ended so students could have attended the meeting to find some “common ground.”
“I feel sometimes like the city of Belleville and Lindenwood University kind like made us the bad guys in this issue like we’re anti-Lindenwood or anti college students and we’re not. The vast majority of us on West A Street have college degrees and the rest of us are military,” Verges said.
“I think if we would be able to sit down talk to these kids, and say, ‘We come from the same background, we’re basically the same kind of people.’ So maybe things would be resolved and there would be a little bit more respect because we have to live together.
“I feel we’re that we’re being more or less pitted against each other by not only the administration but at times City Hall and it shouldn’t be that way. We should be able to get along.”
Want to go?
- What: Lindenwood University-Belleville will host a town hall meeting to gather comments from the public.
- When: 6:30 p.m. Wednesday
- Where: Union Elementary School cafeteria at 20 S. 27th St.