“It seems like E. Franklin St., running east to west, separates the university from Waynesburg Borough, just as the Berlin Wall separated eastern and western Berlin,” said Mike Belding, chairman of the Greene County Board of Commissioners.
Belding believes there is a separation between Waynesburg University and the town of Waynesburg. Not a physical barrier like the Berlin Wall, but a metaphorical one separating the university’s students from High Street.
The problem? High Street is a major economic hub, both in Waynesburg and for Greene County. With economic growth being one of the focuses of the new board, Belding wants to find new ways to integrate Waynesburg University students into the town.
“We want to increase student foot traffic into downtown and examine opportunities to increase entertainment opportunities and things to do in the borough,” Belding said. “From cultural events to kayaking, we think we can offer well organized activities that may more effectively increase resident, business and student interaction.”
To accomplish this, Belding’s idea is to use a currently vacant lot to bring people together. Belding cited Perry Twp. as an inspiration for the idea to bring a movie night to High Street.
“Last summer they started a Screen on the Green program showing movies behind their local American Legion,” Belding said. “Families brought lawn chairs and blankets, they served hot dogs and popcorn and watched a family appropriate movie. More than 100 people showed up, many traveled from outside the area.”
Belding has turned his idea over to a group of residents in Greene County who are focused on bringing more foot traffic into Waynesburg. In Belding’s view, this gives the idea a better chance to grow and succeed than if it were to be run at the government level.
“There is mounting evidence that community committees or action groups can be more effective, efficient and experience fewer restrictions than government organizations whose effectiveness, flexibility and timely reactions are often reduced by red tape,” Belding said.
The vacant lot, located between Fashion Shoppe and First National Bank on W. High St., is currently owned by Waynesburg University according to a map of university property in the Public Safety office and Terry Sattler, director of facilities planning and management at the university. Both Sattler and Belding noted that the lot has previously been used for Waynesburg’s annual Rain Day celebration.
Businesses on High St. have already seen the benefits of student interaction. Heather Jeffries of Mankind Gentlemen’s Cuts says the business has been operating for about a year and has served many students already.
“They are in demand,” Jeffries said. “The school is close for them to get haircuts. Our prices are pretty decent. Hopefully working on student discount cards, every once in a while we throw coupons in the Yellow Jacket. Shopping local helps the county, helps us, helps everybody.”
The board of commissioners has recently been meeting with the university’s president to find new ways for students and the community to interact.
“We have recently met with President Lee and discussed increasing positive relationships with the university and becoming more of an intellectual partner rather than just neighbors,” Belding said.
Douglas Lee, President of Waynesburg University, feels Waynesburg is a perfect place for the connection between students and community to happen.
“I think we are fortunate in this area to have such a great relationship with the county,” Lee said. “The interest in both the members of our council and the borough leadership, as well as the county leadership in engaging our students. I am really excited about that and I appreciate the county commissioners extending this opportunity.”
While Belding said there are currently no additional ideas for the empty High St. lot, he believes it can play a larger role in activities in the future, leading to a more diverse economy for Greene County and Waynesburg.
“The county and businesses should provide opportunities for entertainment, cultural events, internships and employment opportunities as we endeavor to increase the diversity of our economy.”