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Near East Side Receives $30 Million Grant for Urban Redevelopment Plans

Walker Evans and Anne Evans Walker Evans and Anne Evans Near East Side Receives $30 Million Grant for Urban Redevelopment PlansPhoto by Walker Evans.
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US Secretary of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Shaun Donovan visited Columbus today with some very good news. He joined local and state leaders at an event on the recently demolished Poindexter Village site to announce that Columbus was being awarded a $30 million federal grant through the Choice Neighborhoods Initiative (CNI) to assist with the execution of development plans laid out by the PACT planning process in recent years.

“When President Obama came into office, with much thanks to the State of Ohio, he declared that he wanted to put the ‘UD’ back in HUD,” said Donovan at today’s event. “That means that this is about neighborhoods and not just housing. Housing should be surrounded by all critical assets to make those important connections to education, jobs and transportation.”

The PACT plan was created by local leaders and community stakeholders and calls for the development of 350 new mixed-income housing units, a food hub, job centers and other neighborhood amenities. The development is expected to arrive in  multiple phases over the next decade, and Columbus Mayor Michael B. Coleman expects the results to be transformational for the Near East Side.

“This is more than just the right thing to do… it’s also personal,” said Coleman. “For me, there has been a decade of commitment to this idea. Today is one of most important and significant days during all of my years in politics. It fulfills the promise that we’ve been working on for so long.”

Coleman and Donovan were also joined by new OSU President Michael Drake, CMHA President Charles Hillman, and US Congresswoman Joyce Beatty.

“This is a day where you can see not only your vision taking shape, but also becoming a reality,” said Beatty. “For twenty years of my life I worked in public housing, so today is very personal.”

Some area residents and community leaders protested the demolition of Poindexter Tower and Poindexter Village, worrying about the history that would be lost from the razing of the neighborhood. Secretary Donovan pointed out that today’s plans aim to assist in repairing the damage that had been done to the neighborhood for the better part of the last century.

“Unfortunately, like too many neighborhoods around our country, The Near East Side fell on hard times… and the sad truth is that the federal government contributed to that,” he explained. “The construction of the highways cut this neighborhood off from Downtown, and the public housing that was built was surrounded by unsafe streets, bad schools and too few jobs. Too often, revitalization efforts from DC were something that happened to people, and not for people. That was a recipe for failure.”

Donovan said that the new approach for this type of housing development comes from being a locally driven process first, with the federal government playing a supportive role.

“We’re going to show everyone that the rebirth of Near East Side starts right here,” he proclaimed to applause. “We’re going to show everyone why neighborhoods should be defined by their potential and not by their problems.” 

The news is the latest continuation of the ongoing changes coming to the Near East Side as PACT works to change the demographics of the neighborhood. At the June 17th Columbus City School Board meeting, PACT representatives presented a draft of their plan to transform the Columbus City Schools located in the Near East Side into “schools that will meet the needs of existing residents and attract new ones.”

How do they plan to do this?

The seven schools located in the Near East Side feeder pattern — East High School, Champion Middle School, and the five elementaries: Trevitt, East Gate, Beatty Park, Ohio Avenue, and East Columbus — will become focused on a Health Sciences Pipeline.

All schools will continue to use Ohio Common Core standards as the basis, but have the theme of health sciences weaved throughout.

The new school plan proposes longer school days and a longer school year as well as Saturday school, granting approval from the Columbus City Schools Board.

Administrators, teachers, and staff for the schools would need to sign on to the new program. This was of concern to board member Ramona R. Reyes who asked for more detail on the impact on the current staff.

“We hope everyone will stay, but if they leave it will be their choice,” answered PACT Executive Director Trudy Bartley.

Professional development is stated to be offered as ongoing in order to continue the implementation of the design concept. Planning is set to begin with the 2014-2015 school year, with implementation of the plan happening in the 2015-2016 school year.

The program will be developed with input from Columbus City Schools school leadership, teachers, district staff, professionals with the OSU Wexner Medical Center and the College of Education and Human Ecology, and PACT leadership and staff.

Community development throughout the neighborhood is also a key component to the PACT plan and members would like to use the school buildings as community hubs (contingent on funding and Board policies) for events to “build rapport and trust among families.” PACT’s overarching theme for the neighborhood is ‘health and wellness’.

“We’d love to make a MedTown, similar to the BizTown program, at the schools,” said Bartley. “Having doctors team-teaching with teachers, having a total health and wellness clinic in the school, a psychiatric nurse practitioner on staff; we look forward to it being an attractor for families in the neighborhood.”

By the end of 2025, PACT is hoping that 80% of children living in the PACT geography will be enrolled in the schools in the Near East Side feeder pattern, and that schools in this health sciences pipeline will rank in the top 10% of all state schools, closing the achievement gap as measured by the state report card. They are also hoping to have 90% of parents involved with the school in a meaningful way.

Board members seemed very receptive to the draft outline with comments that it would be a great thing for the neighborhood. Board Vice President Bryan Steward would like to see more engagement with the local small churches in the area. Board Member W. Shawna Gibbs would like to see more parents coming forward in support of the new plan for the schools, asking what the parents want for the area. She stated that the board would like the parents to become the number one champion of the area schools, and hoped to see a group such as SouthsideSTAY or Clintonville Go Public emerge.

For more ongoing news and discussion on PACT, click here to visit our Messageboard.

For more ongoing discussion on Columbus City Schools, CLICK HERE to visit our Messageboard.

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