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Clifton Cultural Arts Center to be evicted to make way for new Clifton neighborhood school

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Posted at 8:31 PM, Mar 17, 2017
and last updated 2017-03-18 11:29:02-04

CINCINNATI -- Cincinnati Public Schools plans to oust Clifton Cultural Arts Center from the old Clifton School building to make way for a new arts-centered neighborhood school pending a vote Monday night.

A day after CPS signed a $700,000 contract to buy the old Rawson estate and nearly 2 acres just north of the arts building, Superintendent Mary Ronan notified the arts center executive director, Leslie Mooney, that the school board would vote on a resolution to give the arts center the required one-year notice to vacate.

The district plans to open the new school in fall 2018.

"We were hoping for a different outcome and hoping for the community’s sake that there would be a win-win solution," Mooney told WCPO.

But she added that she's excited for the next phase for the arts center, engaging the community to decide where to relocate and what it wants out of the facilities.

"I think CPS will want to do the right thing by the community," Mooney said, referring to the buyout price that the district will pay for early lease termination.

Mooney said the arts center may be in line to receive $2.5 million from the district to recoup its investment in the building and to meet other terms of the lease termination.

New arts school to come

CPS School Board Chairwoman Erica Copeland-Dansby said the move is a reaction to the district's growth and the need to add another school to serve Clifton Heights, University Heights, Fairview (known as CUF), Clifton and Spring Grove Village.

The district scoured the area for an alternative location for the school but didn't find one to rival the old school building. The new school will cater to feedback that the district received from community surveys.

"Clifton has told us that they’re interested in the arts, and we’ve demonstrated in other communities that we’re good at that," she said. "We'll be opening a school with an arts focus, what you might call a cultural arts campus."

Copeland-Dansby said the K-6 school would differentiate itself from the K-12 School for Creative and Performing Arts by being a neighborhood school – one whose students have to be from the surrounding neighborhoods – instead of a city-wide magnet like SCPA.

Families who prize proximity to a good school can choose the new school, she said.

Copeland-Dansby said the district tried unsuccessfully to schedule meetings with the CCAC for Friday or Monday, March 20, but she wants to foster as much collaboration as possible to find a new home for the arts center and to develop the new neighborhood school.

"I’ve run a non-profit for 27 years, and I know change is tough. But the group has an opportunity not to leave the community," she said.

That opportunity, she said, is taking over the 5,000-square-foot Rawson mansion that CPS agreed Thursday to buy adjacent to the current arts center. She said that proceeds that the arts center will get from the move could be used to build additional space to accommodate programming.

The Rawson estate, which is under contract for CPS to buy. Photo by Bob Driehaus | WCPO

"There’s plenty of opportunity to find a solution that makes room at the table for everyone. I want space for kids and families at the new school. I also want the same for the arts community," Copeland-Dansby said.

Mooney said the community-wide effort to save the shuttered school by transforming it into an arts center involved raising $2 million in the thick of the Great Recession and volunteers logging thousands of hours building up the institution.

"I feel like the current board and I have to really pay attention to the community's voice about next steps," she said.

With broad support from the community, the city, the school district and the state, the arts center should be able to remain vital, Mooney said.

"I think we’ll have the momentum to go forward," she said.

Bob Driehaus covers economic development. Contact him and follow stories on Facebook, Google, and Twitter.