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Should Clinton Annex be saved? Group mulls question

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After hearing about plans to demolish the last government building still standing from the time before Clintonville was annexed into the city, area commission members last week approved the creation of a special committee to seek ways to save the structure.

"I do realize it is a last-ditch effort," said District 3 representative Elizabeth "Libby" Wetherholt, who proposed formation of the panel to spare what's variously referred to as the 1904 Building and the Clinton Annex from the wrecking ball.

With District 1 representative Rob Wood and Kristopher Keller of District 8 absent, the Clintonville Area Commission members on hand split 4-2 in favor of forming the committee that will "explore all possibilities and avenues," as Wetherholt put it, for preserving the former township school, which sits on the site of Clinton Elementary School, 10 Clinton Heights Ave.

Members of the special committee won't have long to do their exploring; Columbus City Schools representatives may come before the CAC as soon as August seeking formal approval of a demolition permit, said Carole Olshavsky, the district's senior executive for capital improvements, at last week's CAC meeting.

The deadline by which community members were supposed to have come up with some viable alternative use for the aging structure is long past, Olshavsky pointed out during a joint presentation with Gerald A. Sutton of the local architectural firm Schooley Caldwell Associates.

The district's plan is to remove a "few select artifacts" and any hazardous materials from the 1904 building, tear it down and create about 2,000 square feet of additional green space for Clinton Elementary School, Sutton said.

"That's the highest and best use, we think, for that space," he added.

The project would take about a week and cost perhaps $100,000, Sutton said.

"The reality is that building will take very little time to come down," Olshavsky said.

Another reality, she said, is that it would probably cost as much as $1 million to bring the 9,000-square-foot, three-story structure up to code if some individual or organization wanted to take it over. In addition, unlike Clinton Elementary School, the Clinton Annex is on property currently zoned residential, Olshavsky said.

"My position is it should have come down a year ago," she said.

Nevertheless, Wetherholt and Clintonville Historical Society President Mary Rodgers clung to some faint hope that a last-minute effort will produce a viable use for the old schoolhouse.

"We ... hate to see this building go," Wetherholt said.

"I think it's deserving of as much chance as we can give it," Rodgers said.

Although she and others have been working actively for nearly four years to come up with an alternative to razing the annex, the society president said at last week's meeting that several proposals have been developed just within the past two months.

One is to turn it into a "kid-curated museum" that could generate income by charging admission in the summer, Rodgers said. More recently, a local clinical psychologist who founded a gluten-free bakery has come up with the idea of creating a new after-school program in the building, Rodgers said.

Tom Atzberger of the historic National Republican Glee Club told CAC members his organization might be interested in using space in the building to rehearse.

"We're still singing," Atzberger noted of the club that was founded in Columbus in 1872.

"Once we lose something like this, it's gone," Wetherholt said. "It is incumbent on us to give one last, all-out effort to see if we can prevent this."

"I strongly support this," commented Nancy Kuhel of District 2. "It's a beautiful building. I think it would be a shame if we didn't stand up and say, 'OK, what can we do?' "

"It's too little, too late," said District 9's D Searcy. "I just think we're sending a very mixed message."

"I don't want it to be painted as we're going to do everything possible to save that building," said Jason Meek, the District 7 representative. "I think that's a slippery slope."

Searcy was joined by Dana K.J. Bagwell of District 5 in opposing formation of the committee.

Joining Wetherholt in voting for it were Kuhel, Meek and Randy Ketcham, the District 6 representative.

Chairman Daniel B. Miller, as has become his custom, abstained.

The special committee, headed by Chairwoman Mary Beth Hirsch, will meet at 7 p.m. today, July 18, at Clinton Heights Lutheran Church, 15 Clinton Heights Ave. Anyone interested in preserving the Clinton Annex or joining the committee is invited to attend.

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