Marietta College seeks to close Butler to vehicles

Graphic submitted by Bret Allphin, Buckeye Hills Regional Council development director. A map showing the Ohio Department of Transportation traffic counts in the area of Marietta College from 2016.

Marietta City Council heard the early plans to expand Marietta College’s impact on the downtown Wednesday, with a request to consider vacating Butler Street.

That would mean no vehicle traffic on Butler from Fourth to Seventh streets.

“Fourth and Butler (streets), we believe that to be the main entrance to campus,” explained Marietta College President Bill Ruud. “Creating a uniform and branded entry point to campus… If we had Butler Street that would be a game changer for us.”

Ruud explained that the vision over the next decade would be to build a student/community center between the freshman quad and Hermann Fine Arts Center and update the look of facades and spaces between current buildings.

“But whether or not we have Butler affects what kind of center gets built,” he said.

The presentation also included visuals of expanded and upgraded walkways, with the access for police and fire response, and an idea to expand Thomas Hall’s Fourth Street-facing side.

But before any street is vacated, or major construction effort breaks ground on the private campus, Ruud explained the college intends to perform a detailed traffic study, economic impact study and full proposal for why council should consider vacating Butler Street between Seventh and Fourth streets.

“We want to make sure we’re addressing all concerns and working out the kinks early on with all the weeks required of advertisements, any public hearings and bring the presentation before a full council and the public for their input as well,” said Ruud.

Marietta Fire Chief C.W. Durham pointed out at the meeting that no officials in the room were present when the city vacated Fifth Street between Putnam and Greene streets, but said there are current challenges to fire response from that decision.

“We need 20 feet wide, 13 feet, 6 inches clearance high,” he said. “Your tall buildings, that’s what the bucket truck is for, not just to keep your students, faculty and staff safe.”

Ruud acknowledged the concern and invited Durham to be a part of the planning as the capital campaign moves forward.

“I’m fully aware that those bollards across from my house don’t move and they should,” said Ruud, referring to the Putnam Street entrance to campus at the end of Fifth Street. “But that’s easily fixable in this plan.”

City Engineer Joe Tucker also voiced the need to know what a vacation of Butler would mean for traffic patterns and the impact on surrounding intersections. He said a 2009 study of Butler Street showed between 4,000 and 5,000 cars traveling through that stretch of Butler daily.

“But with every problem there are opportunities,” said Tucker. “This traffic study could become also a traffic impact study and we can learn how all of those vehicles come into, park and leave the campus and where they’re coming from and where they’re going.”

Tucker said traffic studies take typically six to eight weeks to complete, which Ruud added would not start until the college is back in session Aug. 27.

Then, according to Law Director Paul Bertram, council would be required to hold multiple public hearings and advertise in the Times that it was considering a proposal to vacate the street.

Mid- to late-October would then be the timeframe to begin those hearings and Ruud offered to give his full presentation on the vision of the college’s facelift again at that time.