SOUTH BEND -- Everyone seems to agree it's good news that St. Joseph Grade School is doing so well that parish leaders are planning a $4 million expansion.
Everyone also seems to agree there's good momentum for businesses in the East Bank, and that the school has been an asset in attracting that development.
One point where some people in the neighborhood disagree is whether the school should be allowed to buy and lease some city-owned property at the northwest corner of Colfax Avenue and Hill Street, and convert it into parking spaces for the school's staff members.
Some nearby business owners would rather see that vacant lot saved for a restaurant or shop that would add to the commercial mix in the neighborhood east of downtown. Others say the lot has been empty for at least 15 years, and parking would be a productive use until a developer presents a viable plan to build on it.
About 70 people packed into the school's library Tuesday afternoon to see renderings of the expansion plan and talk about whether there are other options to meet the staff's parking needs.
The plan includes tearing down St. Joseph Catholic Church's parish center that faces St. Louis Boulevard and building an addition to the school that would house a gymnasium, a music lab and space for a pre-kindergarten program.
The parish bought the Family Justice Center building at 711 E. Colfax Ave. a couple of years ago to house the parish's offices and a preschool program.
The staff parking area between the church and school will be converted to a greenspace where the school's 450 students can play during recess. Parish officials, therefore, need to find another place for the school's 55 staff members to park; they say the lot at Colfax and Hill -- across the street from the school -- is the best option.
"This is about creating a campus feel for a downtown school," the Rev. John DeRiso, the church's pastor, said at Tuesday's meeting.
DeRiso said parish and school officials considered other locations for parking.
For example, an out-of-business car wash is for sale at Hill and LaSalle Avenue, but DeRiso said the property's asking price -- $600,000 -- is prohibitive. Plus, it's not visible from the school.
The South Bend Redevelopment Commission is the official owner of the property at Colfax and Hill, and will have to decide whether to approve any sale or lease of it.
Jitin Kain, a senior economic development specialist for the city, told The Tribune last week that the proposal to the commission will be to split the property into two equal-sized lots. The school could buy the interior portion and lease the portion facing the corner.
Kain said such an arrangement would maintain the possibility that the corner could be developed.
He said the school has agreed to pay the full market price for the property. The interior lot would be sold for $67,500, and the corner lot would be leased for $5,160 per year.
DeRiso said the parish would make the parking lot attractive with landscaping, brick pillars and a wrought-iron fence.
Staff writer Kevin Allen: