Czerniec is excited. Prominently displayed behind him is a white hardhat emblazoned with the red-and-black Barry University crest, which the VP in charge of business and finance dons for promotional photos of new projects at the rapidly growing institution. The 60-year-old, onetime girls-only college in Miami Shores has more than tripled in size since Sister Jeanne O'Laughlin was named president in 1981. A campus that once was contained on 40 acres between 111th and 115th streets, from NE Second to Miami Avenue, may soon extend all the way to Interstate 95, six city avenues beyond its previous boundary.
Right now, Czerniec points out, the only building on the open land across Miami Avenue that he calls the west 40 is the Barry Health and Sports Center. But not for long. On the way are a state-of-the-art, 78,000-square-foot student center, a new residence hall, and more parking lots. The VP is most proud of the $11.9-million student center. "This," he beams, "may be the biggest project Miami Shores has ever had come down the path at one time."
And, adds Czerniec, there's more where that came from. "Everything is possible," he says, flipping through the master-plan book prepared by the university's architectural firm, a kind of fantasy blueprint for the future. "A new intercultural community center, a 1200-car parking garage, a conference hotel, everything."
Barry has money to build as well as what Czerniec describes as "positive political relationships" with the Village of Miami Shores. When the school expressed interest in the old kennel club, for example, the village agreed to rezone the property for educational use, forgoing tax revenue in exchange for an annual lump-sum payment from Barry. "I think [Miami Shores] looked at the situation," explains Czerniec, "and said, It's better to have Barry there.'"
But there is already a there there. Barry may be the fastest-growing institution in South Florida with the least bit of wiggle room. The school's existing campus and its adjacent properties -- all roughly four blocks wide -- are virtually wedged into the surrounding suburban landscape.
And portions of that landscape are not exactly the ideal backdrop for a college brochure. "The issue north of here is a concern to us," Czerniec admits, staring down at the invisible line on the map that runs from the tidy, nicely painted homes south of 111th Street in Miami Shores, through the existing Barry campus, north to a four-block stretch of NE Second Avenue populated by strip malls, gas stations, and storefront churches in various stages of upkeep.
Sandwiched between Miami Shores and the City of North Miami, this predominantly Haitian and Latino working-class neighborhood in unincorporated Miami-Dade has suffered from years of county neglect: insufficient street lighting; lack of sidewalks (only in the past few months has the county begun to install sidewalks in the 50-year-old neighborhood); little, if any, code enforcement; and almost no police presence. Single-family dwellings have been illegally subdivided to accommodate multiple renters. Disabled cars and loose litter dot overgrown front lawns. Dogs wander the streets. A few years ago, when the Village of Miami Shores, citing security concerns, barricaded every street from NE 104th to NE 111th, preventing cars from traveling between NE Second and Miami avenues and funneling a disproportionate amount of high-speed traffic north onto the once-quiet neighborhood's residential streets, nobody at the county objected.
Spilling over into this neighborhood from its original home in Miami Shores, Barry is promoting what it believes to be a revitalization of the area. The school's increased role in the community may indeed benefit residents.
If Sister Jeanne's incredible, ever-expanding Catholic university doesn't gobble them up first.
When Barry College opened in the fall of 1940 (the school wasn't designated a university until 1981), room to grow was the least of the founders' worries. The college, initially five buildings in Miami Shores, was little more than a family affair, a fledgling school for women founded by a sibling trio of Irish-Catholic clergy: Mother Gerald Barry of the Dominican Sisters of Adrian, Michigan; Monsignor William Barry of St. Patrick's Church in Miami Beach; and Bishop Patrick Barry of St. Augustine.
The Barrys acquired their land for the very reasonable sum of $40,000 through purchasing agent John Thompson, a Miami lawyer and eventual law partner of Florida Sen. George Smathers. Four years later, when the school added the adjoining parcel to the west, doubling the size of its property holdings, Thompson was the mayor of Miami Shores.