Medical College of Georgia President Ricardo Azziz wants to create a more attractive and unified campus by closing a portion of Laney-Walker Boulevard, turning it into a park that honors the street's namesakes.
But some in Augusta say it would be an affront to the historic nature of the street and a burden on a community that has already surrendered the former Gilbert Manor area to the school.
Azziz on Monday addressed a subcommittee of the Augusta Commission about the school's request. The request was received as information while the committee waits on traffic reports and the results of town hall forums about the potential closure, the first of which is tonight.
Laney-Walker, between R.A. Dent Boulevard and 15th Street, essentially cuts MCG's campus in two, and detracts from its appearance, Azziz said.
"Our campus does not look like a university campus," he said. "The students and the faculty have come to me and said, 'We want a campus that is unified. We want a campus that looks good. We want a campus that has green space. We want a campus that is attractive.' And I can't blame them."
The area sees about 8,500 vehicles a day, but the city is still doing a study about how many of them travel all the way through the section, said Steve Cassell, the city traffic engineer. There is already an extensive plan for improving the 15th Street corridor nearby, he said.
"Things are going to have to change in the area," he said. Work also would likely have to be done on Walton Way should the section be closed, he said.
Closing the street would allow the school more green space and would be used to create a park that honors the street's namesakes, Lucy Craft Laney and the Rev. C.T. Walker, Azziz said.
"We recognize that change is painful," he said. "But at the end of the day we must change to adapt. The world is changing around us. We need to ensure that this university remains here, growing and continuing to employ and care for Augustans."
But closing that portion of Laney-Walker would be a blow to the community, said Dr. Mallory Millender, the chairman of a committee to place historical markers on Laney-Walker to honor famous figures from the community.
"It is a bitter pill to have to have the street decapitated at this point," he said. The community "feels that it has suffered greatly at the hands of the medical college," Millender said, although it is supportive of the school.