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Published: Saturday, 12/15/2012 - Updated: 1 year ago

Gardens among projects proposed by city officials for use at former school sites

BY NOLAN ROSENKRANS
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Libbey High School, in South Toledo, fell in early 2011. The site is one of about two dozen that are vacant in the Toledo district. Libbey High School, in South Toledo, fell in early 2011. The site is one of about two dozen that are vacant in the Toledo district.
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Vacant lots where schools once stood now dot Toledo neighborhoods.

There’s the former Fulton Academy site in Old Towne, the Nathan Hale Elementary spot in Westmoreland, and the vast empty lot where Libbey High School once stood on Western Avenue, among others. All told, more than 100 acres at about two dozen TPS properties are vacant and mostly grass after the completion of the district’s massive Building for Success program, which rebuilt and renovated dozens of schools while demolishing the old buildings.

Now, TPS is faced with what to do with all that unused property, many of which may end up, at least temporarily, in city hands.

City departments this year surveyed the sites, vetting which ones may be of interest for the city, for either the city to redevelop or transfer to interested third-parties, with eyes toward assurances that those uses would fit the city’s 20/20 comprehensive plan, Mayor Mike Bell’s spokesman Jen Sorgenfrei said.

A list compiled by the city this summer shows potential uses for some sites. They’re more ideas than concrete plans, but do give some sense of what might come. A senior housing project affiliated with Warren AME Church of Toledo is proposed for the former Warren Elementary site on Woodruff Avenue. A community garden is possible at the former Lagrange Elementary site at Lagrange and Erie streets. And there could be future housing development at the Fulton site.

The list reads in some cases as a wish list, rather than a plan of action. Take for instance the potential redevelopment plan for the Libbey site, which lists as an option “sports activities.” A purchase agreement between the city and TPS to retain part of the now-demolished facility and use it as a community recreation site fell apart over costs.

The city still hopes to eventually use the lot for a similar purpose, but there’s no funding or immediate plans. It is a preference over other uses, such as a strip mall or industrial site, Ms. Sorgenfrei said.

“That is always something in the back of everyone’s heads,” Ms. Sorgenfrei said of a sports facility. “That is a very common-sense use, to make sure that neighborhood has a recreational facility near-by.”

The district has reason to unload the properties; TPS estimates it costs about $200,000 a year to maintain 21 vacant lots it owns, through grass cutting, snow removal, weed control, tree maintenance, and debris cleanup.

“As you look at [the city’s] list, there’s some items on there that don’t make a lot of sense for the district to keep, because it costs so much to maintain them,” TPS business manager James Gant said.

That doesn’t mean the district is looking to simply get rid of the properties. TPS officials are concerned about end-uses of former school sites, and also want to make sure the district gets a good deal. Mr. Gant said.

But the city has more flexibility and experience in transferring properties for possible private use, a function outside of a school district’s normal scope.

TPS board member Bob Vasquez said a concern for lack of public input prompted him to create an email in which residents can send in their thoughts and ideas on vacant property near their homes.

“These properties are in neighborhoods,” Mr. Vas-quez said.

He said residents can email vasqueztpsproper-ty@gmail.com, and they will get an automated response asking for the location of the property they live near, and a promise that their thoughts will be sent on to the administration for review.

Mr. Vasquez said he also will be holding a news conference next week on the subject, although that has not yet been scheduled.

District officials hope to start presenting options for properties early next year, and city officials could have a similar time frame for a final revision for their list of desired TPS properties.

Contact Nolan Rosenkrans at: nrosenkrans@theblade.com or 419-724-6086.



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