Short Cut

The school board wanted the old Pruitt-Igoe site, just north of Gateway Middle School. But with a lot of loose talk about a housing development and a Schnucks store at that site, planners had to look elsewhere. Ald. Mike McMillan (D-19th) doesn't think the switch means downsizing the plan for a large, open campus setting to replace Vashon, now housed in a building more than 60 years old. McMillan says the ambitious plan for Vashon as the city's flagship school posed a few difficulties."There's not one site in the entire city of St. Louis where you have 25 vacant acres of land in a position to be prepared, cleared and handed over to any entity for anything," McMillan says. "So wherever they would have chosen, there was going to be some issues of demolition and preparation."

The $31 million budgeted for a new Vashon, Hammonds says, will provide a "first-class facility" for both the "academic and athletic portions of the school." Sounds as if Coach Floyd Irons' basketball team could have a snazzy new performance venue. "That budget will take you where you need to go," Hammonds says.

Once the Vashon issue is resolved, Hammonds has other matters to consider -- such as how many students will return to city schools and when they'll show up. Hammonds figures another high school will be needed "within two to three years," and it's likely going to mean the reopening of Southwest High School at Kingshighway and Arsenal, which was closed in 1991. At least it won't pose a site-selection problem.

STRAIGHT OUTTA COMPTON TO SLU: When word seeped out last Thursday that St. Louis University was going to replace recently resigned head men's basketball coach Charlie Spoonhour with Pepperdine University's Lorenzo Romar, it didn't take Frank Cusumano of KSDK (Channel 5) long to misspeak. During the 10 o'clock sports slot, he mentioned that Romar was "articulate." Say what? Why is one of the first adjectives used to describe SLU's new coach have to do with his elocution? Of course it has nothing to do with his being an African-American, from Compton in South Central LA, of all places. Had an Anglo been hired for the job, certainly his ability to speak intelligibly would have been one of the first skills to stress. Richard "Onion" Horton was amused by Cusumano's choice of adjective, though he was skeptical of the importance of being "articulate" in college basketball. "When somebody is comin' at you with a three-on-one break, you can't quote no Chaucer to stop one of them dunks," Horton said after the Friday press conference. "A Midsummer Night's Dream don't help much if a guy's gettin' ready to hang on the rim." So being articulate doesn't mean much when the game starts, says Horton: "Can you guard a guy with that? When somebody sees (Duke's) Elton Brand going to that basket, is it 'Wherefore art thou going with that basketball?'"

As it turns out, Romar seems articulate enough to handle the local sports media, but that attribute would not have been mentioned up front if the hire had been Steve Alford or Kevin Stallings. Romar's challenge is to mine the lode of basketball talent in the central city, including Darius Miles from East St. Louis, something media favorite Spoonhour was unable -- or unwilling -- to do. Will somebody give Romar a map to Vashon and Cardinal Ritter? Anybody remember Jahidi White? Chris Carrawell? Loren Woods? James Williams? Horton thinks the current crop of SLU players "are a bunch of bums" and that better recruits, and maybe recruiters, are needed. "Who did they get beside Larry Hughes?" Horton asks, recalling that Hughes wanted to stay home because his brother had undergone a heart transplant. Hughes, Horton says, "would have been in Syracuse if it hadn't been for that. This time around I don't know nobody who needs a heart or a lung or a kidney transplant."

FOR BILL HAAS, THE NEXT BEST THING: In either job, you get plenty of complaints. If you're mayor, citizens galore think you can solve their problems, so you hear them. At the customer-service desk at Wal-Mart, even if the customer isn't always right, he is entitled to unload on you. Instead of complaining about unfixed potholes and insufficient city services, the complaints are "these pants are too tight" or "this microwave doesn't work." No, Bill Haas didn't get to be mayor in his second attempt, in '97. And now he's working the customer-service desk at Wal-Mart. One thing about Haas that hasn't changed is his chutzpah. A few weeks into his new job, Haas saw a Time magazine piece about how Wal-Mart and other retailers were buying goods produced under near-sweatshop conditions. True to form, Haas fired off a three-page, single-spaced letter to Wal-Mart CEO and President David Glass, saying, among other things, "I know I'm being bold, but shouldn't these conditions make us ashamed?" The missive cited the movie Heaven Can Wait in describing how Warren Beatty's character said his tuna company should charge a few more pennies and save the dolphins. Haas thinks Wal-Mart should stop using sweatshops, charge a bit more and provide a good example. "Saying that we can't control the companies we buy from I don't think is good enough if we know this is going on," Haas wrote. Within a week, Glass wrote back, saying Wal-Mart had contracts to honor and was doing its best to ensure workers were treated fairly, etc., etc., and thanks for the interest. If only Haas could run for CEO instead of mayor.

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