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Volker Neighbors Learning To Love KU Hospital And Medical Center, Gradually

The University of Kansas Hospital and University of Kansas Medical Center run along State Line Road adjacent to Kansas City, Missouri's Volker neighborhood. A tight-knit few blocks, where students unwind in neighborhood bars and long-time homeowners chat while walking dogs.

The institution is growing, and like many "town and gown" situations, the expansion has created some challenges.

When KCUR went out into the community to ask about the relationship, we got an earful. Smoking and parking came out as the biggest concerns.

 One recent frigid afternoon, I stopped by the "smoking lounge,"  a tiny patio across the street from the hospital — the only place visitors or patients can smoke. Employees are not allowed to smoke anywhere on campus. 

Sherry Cordle, a heart patient who stood in her hospital gown and heavy coat was  having a cigarette.  She was  joined by a visitor to the hospital, Linda Harrington. While Harrington said she'd prefer a place to smoke a bit closer, Cordle said she doesn't mind coming to the edge of campus to smoke.

"I don't think you should be able to smoke in a hospital,"  she says.

Residents of the Volker neighborhood agree. But they don't want smokers crossing the street and leaving a pile of cigarette butts on their sidewalks and driveways either.

Susan Kytela, president of the Volker Neighborhood Association, says after the campus went smoke-free, it took "quite awhile" before the neighbors were able to get the administration to create the designated smoking area.  

"Finally someone at KU decided they were going to do something about the issue," she says. "They installed this area where people can come and smoke. It's over about as close to Volker as you can get and still be on the KU campus —but it is on the Kansas side of the line.”

Jill Chadwick, media liason for the hospital, says in making the decision to designate a smoking area administrators took three things into consideration: The safety of patients and guests, the cleanliness of the neighborhood, and the needs of the smokers.

"(We want to be) sympathetic that they may need that stress relief. (The day) you have someone in the hospital may not be the day wanna give up smoking," Chadwick says.

For the most part, Volker residents and KU staff feel this particular issue has had a happy ending. But neighbors are having a bit more trouble with the issue of parking.

At a recent meeting of the Volker Neighborhood Association, Manny Lopez, a community police officer, walked residents through the process to getting permit only parking on their block.

The topic has come up before. Some blocks already have two hour parking.

Those who live close to the hospital and are in older homes without garages get tired of employees, staff and visitors parking on the side streets in front of their houses.

George Niewrzel has lived in Volker for 35 years. He says some streets are filled up with cars all day long from visitors or people who work at the Med Center. 

“They even run little shuttles — drop each other off and will drive down the block to pick up other parkers. It's a system,” he explains.

It takes some doing to get the city to approve permit parking. Half the residents have to sign a petition agreeing to the plan., then the petition has to be submitted and approved by the city council. once implemented, even visitors have to have a special tag, says Pam Gilford, whose son got a bunch of tickets visiting his girlfriend.

“It’s a pain for everyone concerned,” she says.

Hospital spokesperson Jill Chadwick says she recognizes there are growing pains associated with a major expanding institution in the neighborhood. She says the hospital has no problem with letting visitors and staff know there will be fines, even towing, if they park illegally.

But Chadwick is pleased with how the neighbors and the institution have navigated problems.  

"One big happy family," she says cheerily."And happy families don’t get along 24/7, but I really believe ... we’ve been able to keep the dialogue open and work through these things.”

Neighbors are cautiously optimistic.

“Well ... they’re more responsive now," says Volker Association Secretary Rick Leidig. "Whether we're a happy family or not depends on whether that continues.”

The neighborhood has some cause for apprehension about what's on the horizon, literally. Fueled by a $10 million matching grant, the hospital is planning to build two new towers just north of 39th Street. 

Volker board member Jim Peters says the smoking issue had a good resolution. He wonders if the development issues might be more tricky.

"They’re a behemoth in the neighborhood, but in another state," Peters says.

Hospital administrators insist they're listening to neighbor's concerns as they grow. For now,  both parties seem confident they can build on the recent friendly relations.

This look at Missouri and Kansas is part of KCUR's months-long examination of how geographic borders affect our daily lives in Kansas City. KCUR will go Beyond Our Borders  and spark a community conversation through social outreach and innovative journalism.

We will share the history of these lines, how the borders affect the current Kansas City experience and what’s being done to bridge or dissolve them. Be a source for Beyond Our Borders: Share your perspective and experiences on the state line with KCUR.


I partner with communities to uncover the ignored or misrepresented stories by listening and letting communities help identify and shape a narrative. My work brings new voices, sounds, and an authentic sense of place to our coverage of the Kansas City region. My goal is to tell stories on the radio, online, on social media and through face to face conversations that enhance civic dialogue and provide solutions.
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