Unhappy Northland Community Council members reacted with bitter disappointment last week to the planned closing of Brookhaven High School, even before the Columbus City Schools Board of Education made the decision official.
But with the handwriting seemingly on the wall -- and a unanimous school board vote scant hours later -- NCC representatives expressed dismay March 4 at what they viewed as callous disregard for the neighborhood.
"It's never been clear to me any metrics that justify closing that school over another," NCC President Emmanuel V. Remy said in leading a wide-ranging discussion that included accusations that the school district failed for years to invest in the building at 4077 Karl Road, creating a "self-fulfilling prophecy," in the words of several at the meeting.
Closing Brookhaven High, which began its 50th year of operation at the start of the academic year, coupled with an already shuttered middle school nearby, creates a "big, vacant hole" in the middle of the Northland area, Remy said. That could have potentially dire consequences on surrounding property values, he and others indicated.
"It's certainly not looked at as a positive," Remy said.
Following the recommendations of a school-closing committee, CCS board members last week unanimously approved closing Brookhaven, Monroe Middle School and Arlington Park and Marbury elementary schools.
Fifth Avenue International, currently housed at the former Everett Middle School in the Short North, will relocate a few blocks to Hubbard School.
The actions are intended to provide $10 million of the $50 million in spending cuts district officials must make.
Most Brookhaven students will transfer to Mifflin High School, although a few will wind up at Whetstone High School, under the committee's plan.
Independence High School and Siebert Elementary School were initially on the to-be-closed list but were removed prior to the school board ruling.
NCC members were particularly upset that district officials had not discussed the proposed closings with residents prior to announcing two public meetings leading up to last week's school board vote.
"I think it would have been appropriate for them to approach organizations of long standing, like the Northland Community Council," Remy said. "I think we're an organization that's entitled to more respect than that."
"If they want a new era of openness, they really need to deal with people right away," Forest Park Civic Association President Ken Gilbert said.
Former NCC treasurer Sandy LaFollette, now the North Side Health Advisory Committee representative to the NCC, pointed out that Columbus City Schools ceased some years ago providing a liaison for the organization's meetings.
"They chose not to be a part of the neighborhood and they chose not to be part of us," she said.
"Quite honestly, when you talk to school board members, they can't tell you why it was closed," Remy said. "They just blindly took it from that committee that it was the right one."
In a letter to school board President Gary L. Baker II dated the day of the board vote and NCC meeting, Remy wrote:
"In other suburban communities where decisions were made to close buildings, many are wishing they had those buildings and their land back. Closed, dead buildings only negatively impact the quality of our neighborhoods and the value of our homes. They do not assist in the efforts which organizations such as the NCC have fought for years to rebuild, areas such as the retail center at Karl and Morse roads.
"I ask that you reconsider the closing of Brookhaven High School, but if closing is the direction you choose to go, then call for a community task force to work toward immediately repurposing the school so the impact to the community and our children is minimal."