St. Ambrose Catholic school to share space with residential apartments | News

St. Ambrose Academy, a Catholic school in Madison, will be the new anchor tenant in the Holy Name Heights apartment building despite residents’ concerns about safety.

Holy Name Heights is a mixed-use apartment building, which will have the school on the first two floors and existing residential apartments on the third floor. It is a unique arrangement in that St. Ambrose will be the only full-time school sharing a building space with a residential apartment in the city. The center has about 58 residential units.

Madison’s Plan Commission last week approved a zoning modification to allow St. Ambrose to move into the building, which is on the west side at 702-726 S. High Point Road and 601-701 S. Junction Road. The building, originally a seminary, is owned by the Madison Catholic Diocese.

St. Ambrose plans to convert over 23,000 square feet of space previously used by Catholic Charities on the first and second floors of the building, and use a pool and gymnasium that are also in the building.

St. Ambrose, currently housed at 3 Point Place also on the west side, has 187 students but representatives from the school said they might expand enrollment once in the new space. The school is for students in grades 6-12 and provides what St. Ambrose leaders call a traditional Catholic classical education.

Some Holy Name residents were opposed to the project and spoke at last week’s Plan Commission meeting, as well as at community meetings that have been held for the project. It was the second consecutive meeting where the Plan Commission discussed the project.

In mid-November, the commission heard hours of public testimony about the project only to learn toward the end that public notification postcards were sent to the wrong residential addresses, thereby voiding that discussion and forcing the commission to refer it to last week’s meeting to give proper community notification.

Most of the concerns centered around safety and security for the students. Residents also wanted to make certain their homes would not be subject to teenagers wandering in.

“Eighteen residents have signed a petition opposed to this proposal,” Thomas Solyst, a tenant, told the commission. “Are you willing to take the responsibility for the safety of the students and the residents by approving this?”

Michael Wick, the chief of staff of the Catholic Diocese of Madison, said the safety of the students and others has been a main focus of this project.

“I wish to stress that this effort has been a careful process of discussion and discernment,” Wick told the commission. “The Diocese of Madison is committed to making safety and security a paramount priority.”

According to school representatives, students would pass through the main entrance of the building to and from the two restricted school floors “under staff supervision.”

During the school day students would have access to the chapel, the gymnasium and the fields outside and would, according to language in the proposal, “stay within the boundaries specified in a lease contract. They would not be in any areas … apartment hallways, resident garden, fitness center, garage, common areas and courtyards.”

Residents also raised concerns that they were not told schoolchildren would be occupying the same building and continued to have worries about how to keep the students separate from the residents.

City staff members and Plan Commission members pointed out that neither of those topics was particularly within the purview of the commission, which was deciding only whether to approve wording in the zoning for the location to allow for a school.

St. Ambrose is expected to have full use of the space in time for the 2024-25 school year.

Nicholas Garton joined the Cap Times in 2019 after three years as a features writer for Madison365. He was also the sports editor of Madison College’s newspaper, The Clarion. He writes about development, neighborhoods, businesses and race issues.

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