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Council Pulls Funding for Demolition of Public Health Building

Brent Warren Brent Warren Council Pulls Funding for Demolition of Public Health BuildingThe building proposed for demolition — Photo by Walker Evans.
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Editor’s note (11/4/21): This article was updated with a response from the mayor’s office.

A plan to demolish the former South Dormitory building on the Columbus Public Health campus has run into a significant obstacle – City Council removed the funding that Mayor Andrew Ginther had allocated for the project in his capital improvements budget.

The action took place at the November 1 council meeting, when Council President Pro Tem Elizabeth Brown moved to amend the budget plan, requesting that $2.75 million be removed from the larger $1.26 billion package.

“We amended the budget to remove the demolition money because this hasn’t gone through the neighborhood process, nor do council members have enough information to understand why demolition was being proposed rather than adaptive reuse,” Brown told Columbus Underground. “I expect more engagement with community leaders and other partners will occur before this project is considered by council.”

The city’s plan, which first became public in late September, was to tear down the building and replace it with surface parking. City officials said at the time that they hoped to demolish the building in November, but neighborhood residents and advocates spoke out against that plan when it was presented to the zoning committee of the Near East Area Commission on October 19.

Columbus Landmarks has also mobilized against the plan, submitting comments to the zoning committee, starting an online petition, and drafting a letter to Mayor Ginther urging him to consider other options for the site.

The building, which was built in 1935 and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, sits directly to the south of the main Columbus Public Health building, at 240 Parsons Ave. It was designed to hold 132 students that attended the Institution for the Blind next door (the city spent over $20 million renovating the larger building, as well as the adjacent North Dormitory building, in 2001).

“We are relieved [by the news],” said Becky West, Executive Director of Columbus Landmarks. “It was premature to budget for the plan before the Near East Area Commission has had the opportunity to review it and make a decision.”

“However, Columbus Landmarks understands this action does not save the building,” she added. “We are appealing to Mayor Ginther to engage his administration in an alternative plan that will achieve the goals of Columbus Public Health and preserve this significant building for a productive new use. Improvements to the Columbus Public Health campus should respect neighborhood history and allow for adaptive reuse of the building to meet the growing demand for supportive housing or other critical services.”

The mayor had previously argued, through a spokesperson, that the South Dormitory building poses a safety hazard, and also that a new parking lot was needed to “better deliver public health services.”

Melanie Crabill, Director of Media Relations for the mayor’s office, provided the following statement when asked what the plan for the building is now that the funding for its demolition has been removed:

We determined it best to continue the conversation and provide more time to balance the total cost of renovation, restoration and redevelopment against any potential benefit. We will continue the conversation and likely revisit the issue next year. The funds necessary to demolish the structure were not reallocated and remain available. We still believe the steep cost to taxpayers to renovate the building far outweighs the public health benefit of repurposing the site. We’ve been working cooperatively with Council, and look forward to engaging members more deeply in this issue in the weeks and months ahead.

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