Ettrick's Changing Face: VSU expansion and enhancement project underway

Change may soon be the norm in the village of Ettrick.

Several houses purchased by Virginia State University to make way for its multi-phase, multi-million dollar expansion recently came down, and an enhancement project along Chesterfield Avenue could soon begin.

The university, which was founded in 1882, was the nation’s first fully state supported institution of higher learning for black students, the school’s website says. In 2009, the student population topped 5,300, the site says. According to the school’s May 2007 campus master plan, the student body is anticipated to grow to 10,000 by 2020.

The original entrance to VSU was from the south across the Appomattox River from Petersburg, the master plan says. But, an estimated 80 percent of the traffic now arrives at the north side of the campus, where there are two entries from River Road that are accessed from Dupuy Avenue, Route 1 and Interstate 95, it says.

Major enhancements in that part of campus will include: a new multi-purpose center in conjunction with a fine arts center and museum; a new gateway village housing complex; and a new mixed use “front door to the university” combining a new multi-purpose administrative and academic office building with Daniel Gymnasium and Hunter

McDaniel Expansions to create one major building complex, the plan says.

“The Master Plan calls for acquisition of all existing residential and commercial property from the existing university boundaries north to River Road and west to Chesterfield Avenue and creating a new Chesterfield Avenue Mixed-Use Housing and Retail Complex,” the plan says. The complex would provide retail services and parking for the school and neighborhood on the ground level and apartment-style housing for students on the upper levels, it says.

The acquisition of the existing residential and commercial property to the northwest of the western boundaries of the campus to Chesterfield Avenue and north from Lee and Boisseau streets to River Road was set to begin in 2009, the plan says. This acquisition is expected to cost about $14 million, the plan says, and the properties within the real estate acquisition line would be demolished.

As VSU’s expansion continues, a separate revitalization project is in the works on Chesterfield Avenue. Chesterfield County Revitalization Coordinator Latisha W. Jenkins said two businesses had been contracted to start the first phase of the enhancement project.

Branders Bridge Landscaping will handle the project’s landscaping elements and Holiday Signs will be doing the signage, road stamps and banners, she said. Jenkins said she hopes that getting the work started will give residents hope that things will change. The road stamps and cross walks will come after paving work in the area is completed, she said.

“We’re just happy that we had something come or start within a year of those meetings,” she said. “We’re happy we’re on schedule.”

Some of the residents who have been involved in the project to this point have moved, as their homes have been purchased by VSU, she said.

But, she said, there’s hope that the project and VSU’s efforts will spur business and home owners to take pride in their properties and fix them up.

The ultimate goal, she said, “I guess, especially on VSU’s side, is to have shops on the bottom and people living above those shops.” Adding residents to the area will make it safer, she said, and people will be able to shop close to home.

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