CINCINNATI – Protracted negotiations between Cincinnati Public Schools and the Clifton Cultural Arts Center took a surprise turn Thursday with the school district buying a mansion and nearly 2 acres on adjacent property.
CPS Board Chairwoman Ericka Copeland-Dansby confirmed that CPS signed a contract Thursday on very short notice to buy a 137-year-old, 5,000-square foot home and sprawling grounds for $700,000.
"It's a dynamic space, we had an opportunity and we moved quickly," she said.
Copeland-Dansby and other school officials were reticent to talk about the implications of the purchase before they had the chance to meet with the arts center board.
She mentioned the land would be a good spot for a new playground and additional parking.
She and other school district officials, including Superintendent Mary Ronan, met Thursday with representatives of Clifton, the CUF neighborhood and Spring Grove Village who are on an advisory board that has been working to find a home for a new neighborhood school to serve those three neighborhoods.
Ronan and CPS left open the possibility of using the mansion and grounds in various ways, but Nicholas Hollan, who attended the meeting, left with the impression that CPS was open to the arts center moving into the mansion, with CPS creating a new neighborhood school in the current home of the arts center.
"If that's an option that's being considered by CPS and the CCAC, then it might be the elusive win-win-win that they have been hoping to achieve," Hollan said.
He and Copeland-Dansby referred to wins for Clifton residents who want guaranteed access to a quality school; for CPS and for the arts center.
The three groups have been working to find a solution to the ongoing problem of too few seats at the popular Fairview-Clifton German Language School to meet demand. Clifton families who in the past could camp out to assure their children got a seat in the school, which is adjacent to the arts center, now are in the same lottery as all families district-wide with no campout.
Hollan said a new neighborhood school could strengthen Clifton's prospects to lure and keep homeowners.
"The neighborhood school and the CCAC are essentially two sides of the same coin," he said. "People will move to Clifton because of a good school, and they'll stay because of the arts center."
CCAC Executive Director Leslie Mooney was not at the meeting and said she couldn't react to what hasn't been proposed to her.
But she reiterated that her board believes that the arts center is the best use for the old Clifton School.
"Thousands of volunteer hours and millions of dollars went in to making this a vital community resource," Mooney said.
The mansion, built in 1880, is about 5,000 square feet.
"We make use of about 25,000 square feet of this building,," Mooney said. "We would need that much space with any move."
Bob Driehaus covers economic development. Contact him and follows stories on Facebook, Google, and Twitter.