SOUTH BEND -- St. Joseph Grade School officials are looking at a major expansion to the building at the corner of Colfax Avenue and Hill Street.
They're in the very early stages of a $4 million fundraising campaign.
Charmaine Torma, director of stewardship and development for St. Joseph Catholic Church, said the plan is to tear down the parish center that faces St. Louis Boulevard and build an addition to the school that would house a gymnasium, a music lab and space for a pre-kindergarten program.
Parish officials have bought the Family Justice Center building at the corner of Colfax and St. Louis, and plan to move the parish's offices into that building.
Torma said the project will also include improving the schoolyard with grassy areas where students can play during recess.
South Bend Common Council members heard about the plan Monday because school officials want to convert a vacant parcel the city owns at the northwest corner of Colfax and Hill into a parking lot for teachers and other staff members.
The parking plan has aroused some concern from neighboring business owners and residents.
They told the council Monday that the East Bank needs more density -- that is, more restaurants and shops to complement the ones already there in the neighborhood east of downtown.
"I think it would be short-sighted to take this prime piece of real estate and make it a parking lot," Hill Street resident Glenda Lamont told council members. "It should be something welcoming and dramatic and exciting for people coming into downtown South Bend."
Barton Bennett, who owns Odyssian Technology next to the city-owned property, said he and several other business owners appreciate the school and want it to remain a viable part of the neighborhood. But they don't think parking is the best use for the corner lot at Colfax and Hill.
Jitin Kain, a senior economic development specialist for the city, said the plan doesn't prevent future development on the corner.
Kain said the South Bend Redevelopment Commission -- the property's official owner -- would split the property into two equal-sized lots. The school could buy the interior portion and lease the portion facing the corner.
"That way, the commission maintains ownership of the corner lot, and we can continue promoting it for development," he said. "The parking lot becomes a temporary use and, ultimately, either the development community or St. Joe themselves could bid on purchasing that corner lot, but they'd have to build on it. Our desire is to see a building on that corner."
Kain said the school has agreed to pay the market price for the property, which has been vacant for at least 15 years. The interior lot would be sold for $67,500, and the corner lot would be leased for $5,160 per year.
Torma said parish officials looked at several different options to settle the parking issue. The lot at Colfax and Hill is the best available site.
The school, which is at 216 N. Hill St., will host a community meeting about the project next Tuesday. The meeting is scheduled to begin at 4:30 p.m.
Staff writer Kevin Allen: