Northland News

Gardens in name now have gardens in fact

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Students from Otterbein University in Westerville teamed with residents and employees of Clear Point Gardens off Shanley Drive in north Columbus to install 100 container gardens at the complex.
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Clear Point Gardens now has gardens.

The new owners and managers of the formerly crime-plagued and bedbug-ridden Breckenridge Apartments off Shanley Drive have come up with a new name and breathed new life into the 604-unit complex.

The owners, partners in the construction and development business in British Columbia, have invested $2.5 million to upgrade many of the units. The project should be completed by the end of the month, said Kelly Nierman, regional property manager for Foresite Realty Partners LLC of the Chicago suburb of Rosemont, Ill.

"The owners are wonderful people," Nierman said last week. "Their goal is not to have the most expensive nice community in the neighborhood; it's to have a nice place for people to live."

Darren Schamuhn and his business partner, Terry Scott, officially took possession of the almost 10-acre site Aug. 1 last year. The Franklin County Auditor's Office lists the July 31 purchase price of the five parcels containing a parking lot and the apartment buildings at $5.7 million.

The same five parcels sold for $9 million on March 31, 1997.

Recently, courtesy of a service learning project for Otterbein University students and with the cooperation of on-site management as well as enthusiastic participation on the part of the largely Bhutanese refugee population, 100 container gardens were installed at Clear Point Gardens.

This will enable the traditionally agrarian people to grow their own food, said professor Heidi R. Ballard, who is with the department of sociology and anthropology at Otterbein.

"They come from a situation where that's what they want," Ballard said, noting the Bhutanese grew crops in the refugee camps in Nepal where some lived for more than a decade after being forced out of the isolated Buddhist kingdom.

Although Ballard, a Clintonville resident, currently is on sabbatical, students in the Global Social Change course that was being taught by Nadia Amin of Pakistan readily agreed to help when she broached the idea of establishing the community garden at Clear Point.

Around 15 students, along with employees at the apartment complex and more than 100 residents, converged on the property April 27 to install the container gardens, a technique for growing vegetables perfected by Job S. Ebenezer of Westerville.

"That we could see this happening in a formerly distressed property is really remarkable," Ballard said. "It really suits Columbus and that property ... in a very global context."

Ebenezer, an engineer originally from India, is president of the nonprofit organization Technology for the Poor. Ballard met him through the Greater Columbus Growing Coalition, an umbrella organization for local community gardens.

"Over the course of a couple of years, Otterbein students helped Job install very large gardens behind Ascension Lutheran Church off Morse Road," Ballard said. "Otterbein has a tradition of service learning."

Bhutanese people living at what had been Breckenridge Apartments frequently stopped by to ask if they could have a plot on the site behind the Haimerl Center. As it happens, Ballard's "significant other" works for the Chicago-area management company hired to manage what would become Clear Point Gardens.

"It just converged," Ballard said.

As Foresite Realty Partners began making improvements to the apartment complex, the idea of installing dozens of container gardens where the residents can grow okra, mustard greens and herbs suited to their native diet began to grow. The new owners, Schamuhn and Scott, were all for it, Nierman said.

"When it was determined that we would go ahead and create the garden, Job and Darren and Johnny (Hale, the maintenance director) and I sat down to plan it out," she said. "We discussed what we needed to do, the materials we would need."

In addition to students in the sociology class, others at Otterbein turned out to help with the container garden project.

"The students interacted with the Nepalis," Ballard said. "It was a very nice experience.

"They're very traditional people. Many of them don't speak English. They dress traditionally. They work in groups. It was very good for the students to see that. They were very excited to be part of that cultural experience.

"Most of these students have never been out gardening before."

Imagine the surprise of apartment management personnel when, only days after the gardens were put in place, grown plants showed up in the containers.

Ballard said some residents of Clear Point Gardens, in anticipation of the installation, had been growing seedlings on windowsills and transplanted them.

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