By Dedra Cordle
The Greater Hilltop Area Commission wants to be involved in the future planning of the Eakin Elementary School site.
At its meeting on Nov. 1, the commission unanimously approved a request from its human services and education committee to send correspondence to city officials, the local school district, and other government entities to inquire about holding informal discussions with the body on the future use of the premises.
Committee chair James White said its members felt it was necessary to ask that a series of meetings with community stakeholders be established because they are concerned that the site will sit barren if and when a new Eakin Elementary School is constructed. He added that it was their belief that the grounds could be used to build facilities that would benefit the entire community.
“The Greater Hilltop Area Commission has identified a lack of resources within our community west of Demorest Road,” said White. “That area (where Eakin Elementary is currently located) is over two miles away from the closest library, recreation center, and community pool.
“The commission has also recognized that the police substation for Precinct 10 is landlocked within Big Run (Park) and removed from the community.”
With these areas of concern in mind, the inquiry seeking to establish a series of meetings regarding the feasibility of building such facilities was sent to the city of Columbus, the recreation and parks department, the city’s division of police, the Columbus Metropolitan Library, and Columbus City Schools.
White said they are not certain what will come out of these discussions, but he felt it was time to start a dialogue with them so their concerns and desires about the future use of the site can be heard.
“The biggest thing we want is to get everybody to come to the table and talk about what we could do there,” he said. “I have spoken to one (city official) and they think it might be feasible to do something within the school or create a mini-rec center or something of that nature where they could still service the community but in a joint partnership with the schools.”
There is no current time-table for when the discussions would be held, nor is there a time-table for when a formal idea on the future use of the site could be presented to the community. The commission did state, however, that they would like to start the process sooner rather than later.
“We have to get a dialogue started because this is important to all of us to be heard in the process,” said White. “I am not certain what the schools’ plans are but I believe anything other than a vacant lot would be ideal.
“Like I mentioned before, the whole community west of Demorest is just lacking in so many resources and they have to travel so far just to get to a library or travel even further away to get to a pool. And for an area that has as many people living there as they do, it is just not acceptable to not have any plans for the site beyond a field. The people who live west of Demorest deserve to have the same access to the same things that we do in the central Hilltop area.”
The urgency for the committee and the commission to reach out to these local entities came about due to the unveiling of the Columbus City Schools Facilities Master Plan (FMP).
In one of the first phases of its plan to build new elementary, middle, and high schools, it calls for the construction of a new 600-student capacity Eakin Elementary School. The initial recommendation is for the school to be relocated to the site of the former Wedgewood Middle School.
The plans to construct a new Eakin Elementary and additional schools throughout the district’s geographic boundary were put on hold by the board of education when they recently voted to remove a $680-million maximum 35-year bond issue and a 4.7-mil permanent improvement levy on the Nov. 8 general election ballot.
Jacqueline Bryant, the district’s director of communications, acknowledged that while there are no current plans for the current elementary site once construction and operating funding is secure, it is possible it would be used in the short to medium term as swing space to “allow other aspects of the FMP to move forward.”
She added that the long term disposition of the site will require more discussion with the community and potential partners.