Monday, April 30, 2001

East End angry about school vote




By Andrea Tortora
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Members of three east-side communities said they are infuriated by a Cincinnati Board of Education vote last week that could jeopardize more than two years of planning for a new school.

        Their frustration could damage the school district's efforts to involve neighborhoods in a $700 million plan to build new schools and redesign buildings.

        School communities at Sands Montessori, scheduled to move to an undetermined location, and Windsor School, which is planning for a new facility, are watching what happens in the East End.

STEPS TAKEN
  More than a year ago, the Cincinnati Board of Education agreed to residents' requests to combine Linwood and McKinley schools into a new building. Then it asked community members to do some legwork:
  • Residents, school staff and volunteers researched and identified five possible sites for a new school.
  • The community decided to create a K-12 school that would also house social service agencies and the YMCA in the East End at Kellogg and Stanley avenues, known as the Rakestraw site.
  • In January, the Board of Education voted to build a school in the East End and directed Superintendent Steven Adamowski and his staff to pursue the matter.
  • The district hired the Children's Defense Fund to work with community members on programming. They meet once a month with more than 100 residents.
  • Architects were hired. Artist's renderings were presented.
  • Rough cost estimates of $21 million, including nearly $3 million for flood mitigation, were made. Kent Cashell, district business executive, said those numbers were high and likely to change.
        “It's so hard to get people involved and yanking them around has the potential to do damage,” board member Harriet Russell said. “Part of the process is building faith and keeping faith with people who really want to support our children and give time to support our schools.

        “I do not wish for these volunteers to feel so disheartened that they want to throw the towel in.”

        The board last week approved 6-1 a new study exploring the possibility of building the new East End school at the site of the current McKinley School on Eastern Avenue.

        It's a site that has been rejected in two previous studies and by Columbia Tusculum, the East End and

        Linwood community councils.

        The vote was prompted by board member Sally Warner. Ms. Russell's was the only dissenting vote.

        More than 100 residents had been planning a new school on land known as the Rakestraw site at Kellogg and Stanley avenues.

        Now they say they feel used.

        They've already put in thousands of volunteer hours to combine Linwood and McKinley schools into a new building.

        Community members oppose new schools at the McKinley and Linwood sites because they say there isn't enough room for outdoor recreation.

        And they don't want to displace residents or businesses to expand the sites.

        Teachers involved in the process say they are through planning for a new school until the Board of Education chooses a site.

        “We are terribly frustrated,” said Carol Conlan, a fifth- and sixth-grade teacher at McKinley. ""We are going to stand firm and say no more meetings until CPS is committed.”

        Columbia Tusculum parent Dee Fricker said the community jumped through hoops for the district.

        “We are sick of the delay,” Ms. Fricker said. “We've told them no more studies. There is no alternative site in our minds.

        “This community is empow ered,” she said. “We were promised a new school and we won't back down.”

        Despite previous endorsements of the East End site, board members said it couldn't hurt to explore the cost of building at the McKinley site on Eastern Avenue.

        McKinley School, which was built in the 1800s, has one of the district's highest elementary school dropout rates — 49 percent.

        When the school district said it wanted to close McKinley School nearly three years ago, Ms. Fricker took action.

        She wants her three girls — Shannon, 13, Caitlin, 9, and Alana, 7 — to be able to walk to school in their neighborhood and to go to a school with more than pavement for a playground.

        “I want my kids to be able to go outside and play on a swing set in nice soft grass,” Ms. Fricker said.

        In the past year, there have been myriad meetings — at district headquarters, at Linwood and McKinley schools and at the Junior League building on Columbia Parkway. At every meeting, talk centered on a school being built at Rakestraw.

        Until last Monday.

        That's when Mrs. Warner made a motion to study how much it would cost to build a new school where McKinley School now stands and to buy other property on the block to make room for outdoor space and parking.

        “Unfortunately we let the community decide what would be the areas of feasibility,” Mrs. Warner said. “What we know is that the community really wants it at Rakestraw.

        “We should have done this from the very beginning. The first studies didn't include dollars because we were trying to work with the community and what they wanted. We can't go into this without making the best decision we can. It has to be the best decision for the district and not just the East End.”

        The action of Mrs. Warner, a Columbia Tusculum resident, angered community members.

        They wonder why the board approved spending $26 million for a new building adjacent to Music Hall to combine Schiel School and the School for Creative and Performing Arts without repeated studies of several sites.

        That project, Mrs. Warner said, allows the district to form a partnership with a private group that will put up another $26 million to build a $52 million school.

        “That to me is a good deal,” Mrs. Warner said.

        Pat Erb, who owns five pieces of property adjacent to McKinley School, said she's making sure her heirs won't sell the land, either.

        “The worst sin of all is the displacement of the local residents, especially the innocent children,” Mrs. Erb said.

        “People in the East End are not second-class citizens and I don't want them to be treated as such. They need a new school.”
       

       



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