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St. Thomas students and St. Paul neighbors met Sunday afternoon in the open space behind the Brady Educational Center, where the university is considering building tennis courts, as part of the Celebrate the Green Space event.
Participants signed letters and petitions and worked on art projects promoting saving the green space from tennis court development. Junior Meg Veitenheimer, who helped organize the event, said the event’s purpose was to spread awareness.
“A lot of the purpose is bringing people together for an issue that they care a lot about,” she said. “Community members, students, neighborhood kids all coming together to appreciate this area and what it serves for our community right now.”
The student event organizers said they hoped the event would create a positive dialogue with St. Paul community members as well as St. Thomas administration. Senior Meghan Durkin said she hopes the university will consider all factors before continuing with development plans.
“I think the green space is a wonderful place to keep on campus,” Durkin said. “I do enjoy tennis, but I like the open area here; and I think it’s important to keep places like this on campus especially when it’s the only one left. I also know it’s really important to the community members.”
Neighbor Flannery Delaney said she was pleased with both the St. Thomas community and neighborhood response.
“We were thrilled that the students were organizing something, so we all said that we’ve got to show up and that it’s so great that the students care enough to do something, because it felt like a real community issue,” Delaney said.
Neighbor Beth Brombach agreed.
“I have two college-age kids and I know they care about these sorts of things,” she said. “It was really fun to see that students were motivated to do something.”
Delaney and Brombach have collected about 160 signatures from neighbors living near St. Thomas who are against installing tennis courts in the open space.
“Everybody knows this space and has always appreciated it and loved it,” Delaney said. “And the river is really a community resource so I feel like St. Thomas has some obligation to the rest of the community [to protect it].”
Brombach shared a similar wish for green space protection.
“It’s a really important spot along the river road, and there aren’t really a lot of green spaces left like this,” she said. “So it was really sad for us to think it could be taken away; not only for the neighborhood but for the students as well.”
Voices wanting to be heard
Many students talked about visiting the green space to spend time with friends and family, play instruments and reflect. Students and community members talked about the importance of nature preservation and biodiversity.
Veitenheimer said her personal connection to the green space inspired her to take action upon hearing the possibility of tennis court installation.
“I just wanted our voices to be heard and for [the administration] to know that people care about it,” she said.
Senior Erin Hagen said she hopes this event will “teach students to respect not only this green space but all green spaces.”
Delaney said her children motivated her to take action against the green space development.
“My daughter was so upset about it and that was what really inspired me,” Delaney said. “I’m going to show her that if you get involved in something you can sometimes make a difference.”
St. Thomas students and St. Paul community members at the Celebrate the Green Space event said they hoped it would get the word out about the proposed tennis court site.
“I hope this raises some awareness on campus and sort of brings it more to the forefront of the university,” sophomore Sarah Beyer said.
Durkin said she hopes the event causes the administration to consider alternate locations for the tennis courts.
“I know there [are] different considerations, and it would be great if we could keep this space untouched,” she said.
Sophomore Katie Zillmer said she hopes the university administration will reconsider its priorities.
“I think a lot of times people don’t see past what’s happening right now, and so what we’re saying is that this green space has been here a long time, and it will be here for a long time,” Zillmer said. “And tennis courts only serve a much smaller population.”
Delaney said she is optimistic about how the administration has handled the issue and the initiative students have taken.
“We felt that the university was open and responsive to the concerns of the neighborhood,” Delaney said. “And the students too have been so receptive, it’s just great.”
Veitenheimer said she appreciated both student and neighbor support and hopes the Celebrate the Green Space event continues as an annual event, as it could be “a consistent way to bring together the community and St. Thomas students, so to build that community with one another.”
Rebecca Omastiak can be reached at email@example.com.