Residents turn out in droves to hear HPU plans

Jan. 13, 2014 @ 08:50 PM

Some were skeptical and most had plenty of questions, but residents who showed up to a meeting Monday night to hear about High Point University’s expansion plans seemed resigned to the changes likely headed to their neighborhoods.
A crowd estimated at about 350 attended the gathering sponsored by HPU and the city at Christ United Methodist Church. Much of the discussion centered around HPU’s request of the city to close a portion of Montlieu Avenue to make way for a new school of pharmacy, physical therapy and physician assistant studies, as well as a new undergraduate sciences building it wants to build at Montlieu Avenue and N. Centennial Street.
HPU representatives say they need Montlieu Avenue closed to public traffic from N. Centennial Street to N. College Drive to accommodate the anticipated 300,000 square feet in new facility space it wants built across from the current western boundary of the campus.
HPU President Nido Qubein said a growing, thriving university will be a boost to the entire city, and the Montlieu site is the only land suitable for the new buildings.
“I am not naive. I do not expect all of you to agree with what I say. All I ask is that you look beyond emotion and look at reason,” he said. “I know that closing Montlieu will cause discomfort. I know people travel down Montlieu constantly, and it will be a terrible inconvenience.”
Sites for the pharmacy school in Greensboro and Winston-Salem were considered, but Qubein said it will be built in High Point. There is no other location in the city, he explained, that is suitable besides the one on Montlieu Avenue.
HPU owns about two-thirds of Oak Hollow Mall — all but the Sears and Dillards anchor stores — but the new schools can’t be built there without ownership of the entire property, he said, adding that HPU has been unable to come to terms to purchase Dillards.
Qubein acknowledged past “mistakes” in not adequately addressing neighbors’ concerns about HPU’s rapid growth. He, other university representatives and city officials stayed after his presentation to answer questions from individuals in attendance.
Angela Wilson, who operates a day care on the corner of Montlieu Avenue and E. Lexington Avenue in the Five Points area north of the proposed closure, pointed out that the street was rerouted 20 years ago during a previous HPU expansion. She said the closing it would be an inconvenience for residents in Five Points and surrounding neighborhoods, who would have to use Kivett Drive or Lexington Avenue as alternate routes.
“Why not reroute (Montlieu) again? Who cares what the name is, as long as there is a way to get from here to there,” said Wilson. “I support the university’s growth, but my concern is, if there’s ever a mass evacuation that has to occur, these folks are going to have a real problem. If something happens in Five Points and we need to get to downtown, we don’t have a drug store in our area, so the nearest one is going to be Main Street.”
Fannie McPhaul, who lives across Boundary Avenue from the HPU campus, said she frequently drives on Montlieu Avenue and understands closing it will make for some changes in her daily routine.
“There’s not much other place (HPU) can go; we don’t want them to leave town,” she said. “As far as me getting where I need to go, it will be somewhat out of my way. I just have to start a few minutes earlier than what I used to do.”
City Manager Strib Boynton told the crowd that response times for police, fire and EMS crews would not be affected by the closure. It will still take ambulances about seven minutes to get from the vicinity of High Point Regional Hospital to the Five Points area using the alternate routes around the closure, he said.
Firefighters are usually the first on the scene at emergency calls, and there are fire stations on both sides of the closure that can respond, he said.
“The city supports change. We want to listen to your concerns. I think we’ve addressed them,” he said. “The City Council does support the university’s expansion plans and does support the closing of the street.”