I admit that I'm sometimes hard on the University. I know I tease them about all of their parking lots and their contradictory lust for both erecting buildings and tearing them down.
But really, I do this out of love for my old alma mater.
I know that sometimes this love probably blinds me of The Big Picture.
Let's take for example the whole parking lot issue. Many times I see buildings that are architecturally meritorious and believe worth saving while the University's Powers-That-Be -- those are the guys and gals who are The Big Picture People -- sees them as X number of square feet that can hold X number of cars, and perhaps, if we're lucky, a really nice fountain.
This was the case with the northeast and northwest corners of Pacific at Broadway. On the west side was the old Howard's building and another structure that housed a beauty school for years while on the other was an old gas station that had been there for decades.
Personally, I thought all of these buildings had some architectural merit, but the University decided that they needed the parking worse than they needed more dusty old buildings and their ongoing upkeep. In all honesty, parking lots are way easier to maintain.
So this summer, the buildings came down and the paving started. Or at least it did on the northwest corner of that intersection. The actual gas station was demolished, but the rest of the aging pavement on the east side of Pacific remains essentially undisturbed while the other corner appears to be nearly complete.
At first, I didn't understand the University's delays on the gas station site. Historically, when The Dome has the go-ahead to add to their parking lot collection, they usually don't dilly-dally around.
One day there is a building and the next day it's gone with a parking lot appearing in a cloud of dust and a mighty, "Hi-Ho, SEMO!"
But the work on the gas station site seemed to be on hold for the last few weeks, which made me wonder why.
Then it occurred to me. There's a funny thing about old gas stations. They often have old gas tanks. So I checked an online Missouri Department of Natural Resources database of Underground Storage Tanks.
According to the DNR, the northeast corner of Pacific and Broadway is home to an underground gas tank that was "Closed In Place." That means it was never removed. However, a unit chief at the DNR tells me that since there are 3 vent pipes still protruding from the ground at the site, that there are likely 3 tanks, contradicting their records.
The DNR indicated that removing old tanks can start at $20,000 and "easily go over $100,000" if a site is contaminated. Unfortunately, it's hard to tell until you start digging.
I checked with the University News Bureau and the original budget for this parking project "does include an estimate related to tank removal."
I really hope they estimated enough and that the site isn't contaminated causing the project to go over budget.
It would be a real shame if they had to scale back the fountain.
Here's an undated photo of the gas station site from the Southeast Missourian archives.