SAN ANTONIO • “This is a marvelous turnout for a wonderful celebration today,” proclaimed Our Lady of the Lake University President Tessa Martinez Pollack to the throng gathered between Main Building and 24th Street on Aug. 21. And indeed it was. Work had been completed on the $2.9 million 24th Street Improvements Project.
The project consisted of a full reconstruction of 24th Street from south of the Elmendorf Lake Bridge to just south of San Luis Street, transforming it from a four-lane road to two lanes. Improvements include new median islands, bike lanes on both sides of the street, dedicated crosswalks for pedestrians, sidewalks and wheelchair ramps, traffic signals at each crosswalk, street beautification and landscaping.
In addition, a new storm sewer system and water and gas lines were installed and CPS Energy enhanced the aesthetics with an underground conversion of existing overhead utilities on the east side of 24th Street.
Funding for the project included $1.9 million from the city; $479,722 from San Antonio Water System; and $331,955 from CPS Energy. The city’s portion of $1.9 million included $400,000 from the 2007-2012 bond program project savings. OLLU provided $245,000.
“For our students at Our Lady of the Lake University,” said Pollack, “the improvements that we celebrate today are major connectors of daily academic life at Our Lady of the Lake University.” Since 24th Street bisects the campus, the reconstruction creates easier access between the university’s many facilities — the Sister Elizabeth Anne Sueltenfuss Library; the Harry Jersig Center, which deals with speech and communication disorders; the nationally recognized Worden School (the first school of social work in Texas); plus the residence halls, academic buildings, fine arts facilities and the health and athletic center.
She added that Main Building had just been recognized by the National Trust for Historic Preservation as one of only 14 recipients of the prestigious National Preservation Honor Awards for 2012.
Pollack expressed thanks to Mayor Julián Castro, City Councilman David Medina Jr., Assistant City Manager Peter Zanoni (there on behalf of City Manager Sheryl Sculley) and Michael Frisbie, City Engineer/Director of the Capital Improvements Management Services Department, all of whom were present, for their parts in making the reconstruction of 24th Street possible. She added that, in addition to that project, the recent $596 million bond will make possible a “facelift” for Elmendorf Lake, an identifying feature for OLLU.
Mayor Castro congratulated the university and the CDP sisters for 117 years of being a blessing to the San Antonio community. “You have built up a university that is excellent,” he said, “that has helped to ensure that so many young people in our city, throughout the years, get a great higher education and are able to live their American dream.”
Noting that his mother had graduated from OLLU in 1971, Castro related, “We’ve always had a deep respect and appreciation for the work that has been done here at Our Lady of the Lake.” The 24th street project was just a beginning, he said. “Elmendorf Lake is going to be improved to the tune of several million dollars. It is going to be a place where people from throughout the city will want to come to recreate and students will find a great oasis as well as the faculty and staff.” This project is important, he said, as it will serve as a gateway “befitting the first class university that OLLU is.”
“As far as I’m concerned,” he added, “there is nothing that’s more important for San Antonio than ensuring that our young people get a great education, and you all are doing it right here. We’re going to keep partnering, keep collaborating to make that even greater.”
City Councilman David Medina Jr. of District 5 recalled that OLLU conducted a 2009 traffic study for the proposed 24th Street Improvements Project which recommended this primary entrance to the university, which also bisects it, be reconfigured from four to two lanes in order to reduce the amount of speed and traffic flowing through the area.
“All the improvements that you see here, this project behind us,” he said, “are a great example of how our city is being transformed, how San Antonio is growing and prospering.”
In addition to benefitting the university tremendously, he noted the benefit to all the residents who travel through this area in the heart of the West Side. Foreseeing a snowball effect, he predicted improvements in this area will continue to build, citing the upcoming improvements to Elmendorf Lake. He urged citizens to continue to come out to the meetings held to discuss this.
Pollack then noted that San Antonio is a city that has water as a theme of its identity, citing the San Antonio River with its beautiful Riverwalk and wonderful extensions that had happened under the leadership of the mayor and city council. She related that a major part of the Elmendorf Lake improvements will be improving its water quality.
Thanking the mayor, councilman and assistant manager for their roles in this, she said: “Imagine the beauty of the water, of the economic development on either side ... and our students and residents and community and faculty and staff all lining up on that lake. It is magnificent!”
Assistant City Manager Peter Zanoni thanked his fellow speakers for their roles in the 24th Street project, explaining that the university had partnered with the city to complete the 24th Street project, leaving it in the hands of the university to manage its design.
Zanoni noted how fitting the day’s gathering at an educational institution was, since Councilman Medina’s and Mayor Castro’s emphasize education as well as infrastructure. Touching on the Pre-K 4 SA Initiative, he explained this project “is about more education for our four year olds and a higher quality of education, to get more students here in the end and to produce a workforce for this great city that will continue to help bring this city forward.”
Pollack announced OLLU’s support of this initiative because “if we gain mastery over Pre-K, we gain access to college, retention in college, graduation from college and, moving on, for students to be taxpayers in this city.”
The 24th Street Improvements Project was no small logistical task, she noted, due to the thousands who use that street. It was brought to completion, she added, through “the hands, minds and hearts” of many persons. “No work of this magnitude,” she said, “or that brings this kind of joy to the university and to the community is accomplished by man or woman alone.”
Following a blessing given by Sister Joyce Detzel, CDP, director of university ministry, those gathered followed the OLLU volleyball team to the location of the ribbon cutting in the middle of newly improved 24th Street.