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School looks at site change

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The International School of Columbus wants to move its nearly four-year-old operation to a former East Columbus church building, enabling it to meet an increasing enrollment.

But first, the school’s proposal will have to clear the city Board of Zoning Appeals, which will consider a conditional use request for the property at a meeting 6:30 p.m. Tuesday.

The school seems to have the support of neighbors, about 15 of whom gathered Thursday at 51 N. Brooks St., previous site of The Ridge church, for an information session hosted by the International School, which ended in applause.

“I think you’ll enhance the neighborhood,” said Tonda Schaefer, a neighbor who opposed the last prospective tenant interested in the building.

Human Services Inc., an agency that provides assistance programs such as Head Start preschool to income-eligible families, had sought to move there in 2011, when neighbors opposed the plan.

But neighbors don’t appear to have qualms this time around.

“It’s a good plan,” neighbor Charlie Swaim said. “I don’t think it will bother us at all, just like the church didn’t

bother us.”

Anita Brown, who lives to the east of the property, said she thinks the neighborhood’s property values might actually rise.

Jonah Sims, who has served as head of school for more than two years, said he began looking for a place to move the school when he realized enrollment would rise significantly more than the 131 students the charter school has today.

He said the former church would provide about three times the square footage, better accessibility and ample opportunities to develop green areas that are not available at the current school site at 3136 N. National Road.

Sims predicted neighbors would be happy with the school once it moves in, because it would attract far less traffic than Human Services would have attracted.

“It’s like Cinderella’s shoe: a perfect fit,” Sims said. “I fell in love with the church the first time I saw it.”

Sims said students would come and go just twice a day, and only a few students would drive and need to park. He said the school-day schedule would go from 8:45 a.m. to 4 p.m., which would minimize commuter interaction with most area residents who work from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

“We’d have hardly anything going on at all in the summertime, except for a two-week English and math prep for incoming students,” Sims said.

Human Services’ proposal was scrapped when Columbus City Council members voted unanimously against it in October 2011 amid neighbors’ traffic concerns. Human Services eventually found a new home at the former Cross Cliff Primary School near Clifford, where it operates today.

Jeff Bergman, executive director of the Columbus-Bartholomew County Planning Department, said the circumstances are different today from those that defeated the Human Services proposal.

The agency’s move would have required rezoning the single-family residential property to public/semi-public facilities, potentially opening it up to the possible location of a sewage treatment plant, private club or other nontraditional occupant if Human Services vacated, he said.

The school’s proposal would require only a conditional-use permit to operate in a zone that would remain residential, Bergman said. That’s why the proposal needs to pass only the zoning board instead of both the Columbus Plan Commission and City Council, as was required for Human Services.

Bergman said the planning department would recommend to the Board of Zoning Appeals that it approve the permit, provided that the school meets conditions that include landscaping and designating Brooks Street as its only public access point onto and off the property.

The Ridge continues to own its former church, even though it moved in September to 25th Street, east of the city limits.

Sims said the International School of Columbus would lease The Ridge property at first but would seek donations with an eye toward buying the property next year. He said the school already has raised $55,000.

The International School would pay for renovations to The Ridge’s two on-site buildings out of its own funds, Sims said. Classrooms would be installed on the first and second floor of the gym building and on the first floor and basement of the church building.

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