Tuesday, August 07, 2001

School or jail site? Tug-of-war grows

Parents, educators join city-county duel

By Dan Klepal
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        What's left of Harmony Community School, in Swifton Commons shopping center last year, is packed on nine tractor-trailers and looking for a new home.

        Parents and school administrators want that home to be the former Mill Creek Psychiatric Center for Children at Paddock Road and East 66th Street in Bond Hill.

        The problem: Hamilton County officials have plans to turn the facility into a juvenile jail and are suing the city of Cincinnati for the right to do that.

        About 20 students, parents and school administrators picketed outside the Hamilton County administration building Monday to make their case: “Out with inmates and in with classmates.”

        The Mill Creek facility is perfect for Harmony, said Principal Dan R. Mooney, because it has room for a gymnasium, cafeteria, dorms, labs and family counseling.

        “Do you want to educate kids there or jail kids there?” Mr. Mooney said. “We're talking about using the facili ty for a positive.”

        Hamilton County Commissioner John Dowlin said he wants a juvenile jail there. The county purchased the facility for $1.5 million, and the state is willing to contribute $4 million for renovation of the campus-style facility.

        Mr. Dowlin said he doesn't think the facility can work with the budget the school has proposed — $200,000 in renovations for the coming school year and $300,000 next year.

        “We don't give away property,” Mr. Dowlin said. “There is a statewide need for this type of facility.

        “I think it's unreasonable to be asked to give away an asset that was given to us for a specific purpose.”

        But the future of the site as a 60-bed juvenile jail is murky. After the county purchased the land, the city tightened zoning to disallow that use. The county then sued for the right to open the facility as a juvenile jail.

        In May 1999, County Judge Robert Kraft dismissed the county's lawsuit, ruling that the city had a right to stop the facility from opening.

        An appellate court overturned the dismissal six months later.

        More court action may come in September.


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