Thursday, June 10, 2004

Over-the-Rhine arts school site OK'd

But board awaits cost of land for elementary nearby

By Jennifer Mrozowski
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Cincinnati school board members on Wednesday voiced no opposition over the proposed site for a new K-12 arts school in Over-the-Rhine, but they're holding their judgment on the proposed site for the new Washington Park Elementary until they hear the land costs.

A private development group, the Cincinnati Center City Development Corp., proposed the new sites last week as part of a plan to redevelop the troubled neighborhood.

The group proposed moving the planned Washington Park from Central Parkway and Elm Street to Walnut and 14th streets. The new arts school would be on the Central and Elm site instead of adjacent to Music Hall on Elm. The development group envisions retail shops and a parking garage next to Music Hall.

"It's really absolutely very exciting," said Catherine Ingram, chair of the board's finance committee. "But you have to realize where we are coming from. These are taxpayer dollars."

Thomas Gunnell, the district chief operations officer, said the plan should cost the district $1.5 million less than originally forecast for the two school projects.

Michael Burson, district director of facilities, said land acquisition is going to cost less under the developers' plans. He told board members he will go into greater detail in an executive session Monday.

The board is trying to acquire the Central and Elm site through eminent domain. The 14th and Walnut site is owned by Western & Southern Financial Group's development arm, which is pursuing a market-rate housing development near there.

The Cincinnati Center City Development Corp.'s executive director, Stephen Leeper, said the housing plan would then not take place at that site. Public and private resources instead would be redirected to some of the most vulnerable properties in Over-the-Rhine.

Board member Sally Warner said she opposes the new site for Washington Park because school enrollment is declining in the Over-the-Rhine area. In addition to the new arts school, the district plans to renovate Rothenberg Elementary, also in Over-the-Rhine. Warner also cited plans to build a new Hays School on its site in the West End.

"This is an area where we have dropped from 3,000 students to 2,000 students," she said.


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