By Sheila McLaughlin
The Cincinnati Enquirer
MADEIRA - A campaign to build a new school at St. Gertrude Parish on Miami Avenue took a step forward Tuesday.
After months of negotiations with neighbors, who appealed the matter to court last August, an attorney for residents said an agreement could be reached in two weeks.
"We started out with 20 issues, and it's coming down to just a few that still have to be resolved," said Timothy Mara, who represented residents at Tuesday's mediation session with church and city officials.
Remaining issues involve lighting and shielding rooftop air conditioning units to reduce noise, he said.
The church's plan to replace its Depression-era school hit a snag last August when neighbors on Shawnee Run Road objected to a city zoning variance that allowed the school to be built 20 feet from their property lines.
Neighbors declined to talk about their concerns, saying they did not want to jeopardize a settlement with the church. Mara said they are willing to accept the proximity of the school in exchange for landscaping buffers, as well as noise reduction measures and the resolution of lighting issues.
The Rev. Ken Letoile, pastor of St. Gertrude, said the new school was needed because existing classrooms are too cramped and the building does not have adequate heating and air conditioning. It will feature larger classrooms, dedicated art and music rooms, a computer lab, and an expanded library.
The school is part of a $14 million to $16 million parish master plan that also includes expanded parking, a new convent for Dominican sisters and restoration of the church. A gymnasium and chapel will be built later.
The update will allow St. Gertrude, with a stable enrollment of 450 students from northeastern Hamilton County, to compete with public elementary schools, he said.
"Madeira just passed a levy to replace their aging elementary schools. Indian Hill already completed their school renovations," Letoile said.
"Our surroundings indicate that if we are to be a viable educational player, we need to keep our facilities up to date with the surrounding pubic school buildings."
If a settlement is reached soon, he said, the school could break ground this summer and open in September 2005.
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