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School Issues: The Clinton Conundrum

Miriam Bowers Abbott Miriam Bowers Abbott School Issues: The Clinton ConundrumThe Clintonville Annex, Pre-Demolition — photo by Dan Thress.
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On December 17, 2013, the Board of Education for Columbus City Schools approved a measure to demolish a 1904 annex at Clinton Elementary School. Regarding the agenda item, there were no comments from the community that evening. The issue passed easily with a 5-1 vote. Only member Mike Wiles voted against the demolition proposal.

The vote signaled the end of a decade-long discussion. According to CCS administrator Carol Olshavsky’s testimony at the meeting, the district had spent eleven years searching for a purpose for the annex building. Failing to identify a purpose, the district opted for demolition.

And so, the process was over.

And then it wasn’t over.

The Clintonville Area Commission asked for a stay. There was a community protest against the demolition. A petition for saving the structure garnered over five-hundred names. Members of the community spoke out against the demolition to newspapers, television reporters, and at the May Board of Education meeting.

All this, for a 1904 building: a building with no utilities, no working bathrooms, and no useful purpose to CCS. Why?

Outside of historic preservation efforts, there might actually be a practical reason. It comes down to the questions asked by Wiles at the meeting. At the time, he asked how demolishing served CCS over the long term. It’s his question that remains:

“Since Clinton is at or exceeding (or about to exceed) maximum capacity, why are we not using that building?”

At the December meeting, one of the answers to over-crowding considered was re-assignment: keep the school small, draw its boundaries narrower and send students to neighboring schools.

That’s not bad news for those who remain “in” the boundaries of the district’s A-rated school, but it’s a harder pill to swallow for those who find themselves outside the school’s boundaries.

Especially when activists cite 242 lottery requests last year for spots in the school; exactly zero children from outside the neighborhood were given lottery seats to attend the the affluent school.

clinton-annex-02

As for structural soundness, The annex was actively used as classroom space in recent years, Whetstone teacher Dan Thress says, “My father was the principal at Clinton in the 1970s. I grew up playing in the gymnasium while he worked in his office on weekends. I taught in the Annex in 2007.”

Thress continues, “When I learned that Clinton was already over its desired capacity a year after renovation, I began doing research on why the building was being razed. As I had always known the annex to be part of the school, I was surprised that the annex renovation wasn’t included in the district’s plan for the school.”

Decisions made under the prior administration, when Gene Harris was superintendent and Carole Perkins was board president, called for a renovation of the main building that left the annex without utilities.

Which brings Columbus City Schools back to the Wiles question. In an interview last week, the former board member said, “The district needs long range plans for where it will be in five/ten/twenty years. How do you know you won’t need something in the future, without a plan… right now, the annex is a district asset. It won’t be after demolition.”

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