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Renovation of Bellows School Underway Despite I-70/71 Split Plans

Brent Warren Brent Warren Renovation of Bellows School Underway Despite I-70/71 Split PlansPhoto by Brent Warren.
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There has been a flurry of good news lately for fans of historic buildings in Columbus, with property owners committing to restoration plans for the St. Clair Hotelthe Broadwin, 16 and 20 East Broad Street, and the Macon Hotel.

Preservationists can now add to that list the former Bellows Avenue Elementary in Franklinton, which in some ways is the most prominent of the bunch — it sits in a highly visible location adjacent to Route 315 and just north of I-70. It is also perhaps the most surprising, since the Ohio Department of Transportation (ODOT) announced years ago that the building would be torn down as part of its massive I-70/71 split project.

ODOT spokesperson Nancy Burton said that that is still the plan, although “specific funding is not yet in place for it.” She added that “this phase is part of the long range funding plan for the project…but is not included with the projects ODOT intends to construct downtown over the next seven years.”

Yhezkel Levi, who bought the building in 2014 and plans to convert it into condominiums, said that he decided to go ahead with the renovation project after multiple meetings with ODOT and the Columbus City Attorney’s office.

“ODOT told me it could be another 15 to 30 years before they do this section, and that they do not have any budget (to buy the building) right now…so we are full speed ahead,” he said, adding that it would be more costly and difficult for ODOT to buy the building after it is renovated, particularly if it is divided into condos and he is successful in getting it registered as a historic site.

Levi said he has replaced about 90 percent of the roof, shored up many of the rotted-out floors, remediated for asbestos, and removed piles of debris and trash that had accumulated over the many years the building stood empty.

He plans to submit a complete development plan for the site soon, which will include two rows of new townhomes along Campbell Avenue and the alley that runs along the western edge of the former school grounds. Levi also said that he will be applying for state and federal historic preservation tax credits for the project.

“Mr. Levi has been coordinating his work with our office and been very responsive to all contacts we have made regarding the Bellows School,” said Anthony Celebrezze of the city’s Department of Building and Zoning Services (BZS). “BZS is appreciative of Mr. Levi’s willingness to communicate and work with our team to bring this historical building back into use…it will be an improvement to the Franklinton area.”

The building, at 725 Bellows Avenue, was featured on Columbus Landmark Foundation’s Most Endangered List in 2014 and 2015. It was home to Bellows Avenue Elementary from 1905 to 1977.

“It was neglected for so many years, but the building has solid foundation walls that are like, 24 inches thick, and the bricks are really in mint condition,” Levi said. “Our goal is to bring all the glory to life; it has high ceilings, amazing archways, big hallways that will be common areas…I’m telling you, it’s a treasure.”

The project would mark the first major new development project in West Franklinton in many years, coming at a time when a number of new developments in the eastern portion of the neighborhood are either in the planning stages or are breaking ground.

“I really think there will be great demand for this,” Levi said, adding that he expects the new units to have a price point of around $150 per square foot, which would translate into condos that sell for between $150,000 and $200,000. “I think this side of the highway has been a little more neglected, but I can see investors starting to buy properties, and artists are moving here…you definitely are seeing revitalization.”

All photos by Brent Warren.

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