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HC compact working; More on-campus activities planned.

Byline: Nicole Burnett; Brittany Geoffroy

WORCESTER - If Caro Street has served as a battleground for the conflict between College of the Holy Cross students and their College Hill neighbors, the street's houses can be counted as casualties.

The most recent loss is a weathered house at 26 Caro St., which had long been home to seniors on the college's rugby team."Historically, it's the rugby house, so I had expected to live there my senior year," said Holy Cross senior Justin R. DeFrancisco. "One day the landlord just said he could no longer lease it to us this school year."

Mr. DeFrancisco had to alter his plans in the spring after he received news that the eight-bedroom house would be torn down.

Holy Cross bought the house in July and tore it down earlier this month. It is the ninth house on the street that the college has bought and razed in the last two years.

Buying and knocking down houses on Caro Street is just one change that Holy Cross hopes will smooth relations with neighbors.

From building a new residence hall that will house 156 students this year, to phasing in an off-campus application process expected to be in full effect by the 2014-15 academic year, the college is trying to alleviate recurrent tension between students living off campus, property owners and residents in the neighborhood.

The tension came to a head last fall after three consecutive weekends of unruly and disruptive off-campus parties were reported. For years, neighbors have complained about nighttime noise disturbances, large gatherings on public streets and litter resulting from Holy Cross students attending off-campus parties.

In response to the complaints, the college and the city of Worcester came together last fall to craft the Holy Cross Community Compact, which stipulates actions and responses that the city and the college will take to monitor off-campus student behavior, including increased communication between the Worcester Police Department and the college's department of public safety.

Also, the college has agreed to offer more structured activities on campus for students ages 18 to 21 between midnight and 2 a.m.

"We have met with the Student Government Association (largely responsible for planning campus events and activities) several times. We are in constant dialogue with them over how to provide on-campus alternatives to students," said Edward M. Augustus, Holy Cross director of community relations.

City Manager Michael V. O'Brien said Friday he is pleased with the compact and the subsequent steps Holy Cross has taken. "The College of the Holy Cross has raised the bar in this regard through our Compact. I am pleased and grateful for our work together, side by side, to date and I look forward to our continued progress in the semesters ahead."

With new students moving in this weekend and the rest on Tuesday, the college has not wasted any time in implementing these new on-campus alternatives. Last night, the school held a First Night Celebration, and will continue to offer night-time activities such as a drive-in movie double feature and a pub for students 21 and older, until classes start on Wednesday. Holy Cross plans to host similar events on weekends through the fall semester, in an effort to give students reasons to stay within the school's gates.

"I think Holy Cross is doing an excellent job taking active steps toward keeping students on campus. During my freshman year there was much more traffic on Friday and Saturday nights on Caro, Clay and Boyden streets. Now it seems like there are a lot more on-campus activities during the weekends that have limited the volume of kids roaming around off-campus," said Holy Cross senior Luke Miller.

In addition to efforts designed to prevent nighttime disturbances off campus, students and neighbors can expect to see more police on College, Caro and Boyden streets on weekend nights.

"We will have public safety officers ride and work with Worcester police details, with the hopes of improving communication with students off campus. Part of their job will be to break up large gatherings before 911 is called, to be proactive instead of just reactive. Public safety officers will know the students, so if there is a problem it can be followed up with on campus," Mr. Augustus said.

Although students largely support the school's efforts to provide more recreational and residential options on campus, reactions to the changing face of Caro Street are mixed.

Many students mourn the loss of off-campus housing opportunities, and some are concerned that the loss of houses will contribute to the school's problems.

"There are about half as many houses, space is much more of an issue. ... I think most of the problems that we had last year were due to packing so many students into fewer houses instead of smaller groups spread throughout the neighborhood," said Mr. DeFrancisco, who has since moved to a nearby house.

Still, other students believe knocking down houses may be the right move.

"I think it is a good decision because some of the houses were probably not very safe; even though it is sad that Caro Street is changing, it may be for the better because the cleaner the street looks, the less likely students may be to trash it," said junior Leah R. DeCoste.

Although the school's new dorm provides students 156 more beds, it is estimated that only 20 to 40 fewer students will live off campus this year. Many seniors said they opted to live off campus instead of in the new dorm for reasons other than hosting parties.

"Looking at my years after college, I felt living off campus was a good testing ground for the future, for living on my own," said senior Andrius J. Balta.

Others cited financial concerns.

"For some students it may work out to be cheaper to live off campus, which is an option that they may really need to take," said Ms. Decoste.

Holy Cross, which has a student body of about 2,880, has recognized that many students have legitimate reasons for living off campus, and will institute an application process to accommodate these students while still deterring disrespectful behavior in the neighborhood. Students who want to live off campus must be in good disciplinary standing to be accepted, and it is unlikely that students with a record of college or residence hall probation will be granted permission to live off campus. In addition, the college will reserve the right to limit the number of students permitted to live in the College Hill neighborhood. This year, fewer than 10 percent of the student body will be living in the off-campus houses on streets in the immediate neighboring area including Caro, Clay and Boyden streets.

While Holy Cross has made the moves in order to diffuse some neighborhood concerns, residential neighbors on the hill have varying opinions.

As a Davenport Street resident for 40 years, Ronald P. Chiras is no stranger to the tumultuous relationship between Holy Cross students and their neighbors. "I'm not very optimistic for the next year, just based on this summer, but it all comes down to the first weekend," said Mr. Chiras.

For T Jablanski, a resident of College Street for six years, concerns about disrupted sleep and large crowds remain the same, but she said increased communication is key.

"I am more hopeful for this year; if we can create stronger neighbor-student relationships it will make a difference," she said.

Students are ready to make a difference. Although Mr. DeFrancisco said he feels nostalgic for the Caro Street he walked down just a few years ago, he is eager to make progress through establishing open communication with neighbors.

"I plan on introducing myself and my roommates to our neighbors and giving them our contact information, so we can fix a problem before it gets out of hand," he said. "We really want to have a more amicable relationship with our residential neighbors on Caro and Boyden."


CUTLINE: (1) Ronald P. Chiras, a Davenport Street resident for 40 years, is a longtime observer of the strained relationship between Holy Cross students and their neighbors. (2) Holy Cross bought the house at 26 Caro St. in July and tore it down earlier this month. (3) Justin R. DeFrancisco, a Holy Cross senior from Andover, on the balcony of his third floor Caro Street apartment. (4) The new student residence hall at the College of the Holy Cross. (MAP) Holy Cross campus

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Title Annotation:LOCAL NEWS
Publication:Telegram & Gazette (Worcester, MA)
Date:Aug 28, 2011
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