Saturday, August 11, 2001

Residents adamant on Job Corps

College Hill foes have politicians on their side

By Howard Wilkinson
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        College Hill residents are glad the planned relocation of a Job Corps facility to a 26-acre site in their neighborhood has been temporarily halted, but they vow to kill the plan for good.

        “We've got some attention from the politicians and everybody thinks this is a bad idea,” said Jim Williams, president of the College Hill Forum, the neighborhood's community council. “We're making progress.”

        This week, Department of Labor officials told U.S. Rep. Steve Chabot, R-Ohio, that the purchase of the former Phoenix International drug-testing facility at 5462 Hamilton Ave. would be temporarily halted.

        Mayor Charlie Luken wrote to Labor Secretary Elaine Chao asking that the federal government do nothing to acquire the property until Job Corps officials have held public meetings where “all questions can be answered.”

        “We're just trying to ratchet up the pressure to get this thing killed,” Mr. Luken said in an interview.

        All nine City Council members and two members of Congress — Mr. Chabot and Sen. Mike DeWine, R-Ohio — have expressed concerns about the Job Corps plan.

        About half of the 350 Job Corps participants would live in a dormitory planned for the site. Residents fear that would contribute to the neighborhood's longstanding problem of young people “hanging out” on Hamilton Avenue.

        “We've got nothing against Job Corps,” said Mr. Williams. “We've always had problems with kids hanging out on Hamilton Avenue and this will just make it worse.”

        A “Citizens on Patrol” organization was formed in College Hill recently, Mr. Williams said. Volunteers walk the streets on weekends and report problems they observe to the police.

        “We're getting a handle on the problem and now Job Corps wants to come in without talking to us,” Mr. Williams said.

        Many College Hill homeowners, Mr. Williams said, fear the Job Corps' presence would decrease property values.

        Mr. Luken said the Labor Department, which runs the Job Corps' job-training program, has never published its plans for the property or met with the community council or city officials.

        “Residents are seemingly traumatized over their growing realization that approximately 350 youths may be thrust into the exact center of a single-family neighborhood without preparation,” Mr. Luken wrote to Ms. Chao.

        The mayor asked Ms. Chao to suspend the plan to move the program at least until the plans are published and “well-advertised mass meetings” with residents are conducted.

        Labor Department architect Michael O'Malley said the current center, a former convent on Western Avenue, had simply “outlived its usefulness to us.”

        “We've been looking at relocating the Cincinnati facility since 1990. We've looked at 18 properties, and they were either too expensive, or it's turned out to be an environmental wasteland, or the people don't want us to be there.” Mr. O'Malley said.

        “We don't want to go into a community where we're not wanted.”

        But that's not to say the Labor Department has given up on the College Hill site. Mr. O'Malley said the government is still hopeful that it can convince residents that it can be a good neighbor.

       Reporter Gregory Korte contributed to this story.


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