PTA agrees with district: Renovation of Annex not worthwhile

Group dedicated to saving structure will keep working, but commission says it won't make a recommendation

By ThisWeek Community News  • 

An effort aimed at saving Clintonville's first high school from being torn down faces opposition from parents of the current elementary school.

In addition, Clintonville Area Commission members, who voted to create a committee to look into preserving the Clinton Annex, arrived at a split decision last week on letting the task force continue to exist but refraining from endorsing any recommendations. Some CAC members seemed to favor distancing themselves from the Committee to Investigate Preservation of the Clinton Annex Building altogether.

The former Clinton Township High School, which was built around 1904 and came to be known as the Annex after Clinton Elementary School was constructed on the same lot at 10 Clinton Heights Ave., should be torn down to create more playground space, Nicole Leenders, president of the school's PTA, told CAC members last week.

That's the position parents took in a vote two years ago when Clinton Elementary School was being remodeled, and that position hasn't changed, Leenders said.

Mary Beth Hirsch, chairwoman of the committee created July 11 by CAC members, provided an update at last week's monthly meeting.

Members of the committee, Hirsch said, have settled on the idea of creating a business plan to repurpose the Annex as the "Clinton Children's Center." The center, which would be operated by a nonprofit organization that as yet doesn't exist, would offer child care after school, during breaks, on the weekends and during the summer, Hirsch said.

"It appears to meet an identified need of Clinton families and the Clinton neighborhood," she said.

Committee members have met with Carole Olshavsky, senior executive for capital improvements with Columbus City Schools, and learned the district would not offer any funding toward preserving the structure, Hirsch added.

Olshavsky gave a presentation at the commission's July session regarding plans to raze the former township building, after which District 3 Representative Elizabeth "Libby" Wetherholt proposed creating a task force to seek ways to prevent that from happening.

At last week's meeting, commission Chairman Daniel B. Miller proposed a motion directing members of the Committee to Investigate Preservation of the Clinton Annex Building to continue their work, but then to present any recommendations to Columbus City Schools officials without CAC endorsement.

"The commission is really facilitating a discussion," Miller said.

"We're supporting these people and allowing communication," Wetherholt added.

Dana K.J. Bagwell, the District 5 representative who joined D Searcy of District 9 in opposing formation of the committee, initially concurred with Miller's proposal, but expressed doubts any business plan could come up with the funding needed to bring the old high school up to current building code. She expressed the feeling that the figure would be "astronomical."

"There are a lot of numbers out there," Hirsch conceded.

Leenders provided one during her comments. She said that when Clinton Elementary School was scheduled for a major renovation two years ago -- which necessitated the school's temporary move to Hubbard Elementary School in the Short North -- it was estimated fixing up the old Annex would have cost $900,000.

District 7 representative Jason Meek suggested it would make more sense for a group of private residents, not members of a CAC committee, to move ahead with asking Columbus City Schools officials to hold off on tearing the Annex down while a nonprofit organization is formed to create the children's center. He said it would be "more transparent" if that approach was taken.

Rob Wood of District 1 said a nonprofit organization should be formed to move ahead with preservation efforts.

"I don't know that we necessarily have a role," Wood said.

Miller cautioned that school district officials probably soon will apply for a demolition permit.

"Those wheels are turning," he said.

The chairman's motion to permit the preservation committee to continue efforts but not to sanction them was approved by a vote of 5-3, with Miller abstaining. Bagwell, Searcy and Meek voted against it, while Wood, Wetherholt, Nancy Kuhel of District 2, Randy Ketcham of District 6 and Kristopher Keller of District 8 supported the measure.