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Clinton Annex

Wrecking ball looms, but some are still fighting

Board OKs demolition of building on Clinton Elementary School grounds; local group says decision will haunt

By ThisWeek Community News  • 

Although the battle appears to have been lost, those seeking to stave off demolition of the Clinton Annex want to continue the fight.

"The Annex is part of our neighborhood's history," Mary Beth Hirsch told Clintonville Area Commission members last week. "That matters. When it's gone, it is gone."

Hirsch is chairwoman of a committee appointed to try to prevent Columbus City Schools officials from tearing down the century-old building, which sits on the grounds of Clinton Elementary School, 10 Clinton Heights Ave.

She and District 3 representative Libby Wetherholt predicted potentially dire consequences for neighborhood parents of young children if the former township school is demolished and no longer available to provide extra classroom space should the elementary building exceed student capacity. If that should happen, they both said, district officials might be forced to change the attendance boundaries for Clinton Elementary School.

"This means that parents of some children who would be expecting to send their kids to Clinton would be sent elsewhere," Wetherholt said. "From my 30 years of experience in the Dublin schools, I know how disturbing that is to parents and to the community as a whole.

"It certainly does not breed loyalty to a school system that already does not have a lot of loyalty."

The other option, she and Hirsch said, would be to place modular classroom buildings on the school grounds.

"I think I know the people of Clintonville," Wetherholt said. "I think the people of Clintonville would be very unhappy with either alternative. Maybe I'm wrong. I don't think I am.

"What do the people of Clintonville want: an historic building that has been nobly serving the students of Clintonville for 110 years, or modular units or the busing of our children outside of their neighborhood?"

It was only toward the end of her report that Hirsch acknowledged the demolition of the structure already had been given the green light by the school board in December.

"On Dec. 17, 2013, the board of education voted to approve the contract for demolition," Carole J. Olshavsky, the district's senior executive for capital improvements, wrote in a Jan. 30 letter to CAC Chairman Daniel B. Miller.

"While these meetings are all publicly noticed, we received no further communication from the Save the Annex group, nor did any representatives attend the board meeting where they would have had an opportunity to speak on behalf of their proposal."

In addition to the idea of preserving the Annex as possible overflow classroom space, committee members have advanced the thought of using the structure as an after-school child-care center.

"The district was willing to consider leasing the building if a viable proposal was submitted to the district," Olshavsky stated in the letter. "The final proposal that the Save the Annex group presented was for reuse as an after-school and weekend child-care facility. The proposal had no funding associated with it, the group had no license for child care, and renovation of the building was estimated at over $1 million to make the building suitable for occupancy. Furthermore, the proposed program was in conflict with the extended use of the school building itself for after-school and weekend programming.

"And finally, the PTA would not support the proposed plan."

Hirsch disputed the district official's estimate for renovation costs, saying they were more in the range of $300,000 to $400,000.

"What this building needs is fairly modest," she said. "The investment is just not that great."

"The PTA at Clinton has voted to have the Annex demolished because they value playground space over educational services," Wetherholt said. "What the PTA has not thought about, I believe, is the other end of the question, which is what happens when the building continues at over-capacity? What will happen to the children who do not fit in the building?"

Both Hirsch and Wetherholt urged residents who oppose the building's demolition to express these views to the interim superintendent and members of the school board.

"The small committee working to save the Clinton Annex cannot be the only people who care about the situation," Wetherholt said. "It's time for the people of Clintonville to make their wishes known."

"The demolition contractor is now in the process of completing the application for a demolition permit, and it should be brought to the commission's attention in the near future," Olshavsky wrote to Miller. "Meanwhile, the contractor will be proceeding with some limited abatement work in the building and mobilizing for the demolition. The contractor may choose to wait until spring break to proceed with the demolition to minimize the impact on the school and in light of the extreme winter weather we are experiencing."

Miller said the members of the commission cannot prevent the demolition permit from being issued, but by not approving it, they could delay the project for 60 days.

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