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Published: Thursday, 3/13/2003

TPS vowed to hear other sides: It's time now to listen

What does Paul Kwiatkowski hope to gain today by going before the city-county plan commissions?

The Reverend Kwiatkowski asked for a slot on the commissions' agenda in his capacity as vice chairman of the city's Historic Districts Commission. He wants all the support he can get for his panel's fervent wish to be included in discussions about the future of Toledo Public School buildings.

This is a topic of conversation, of course, because of the $821 million TPS plan to (mostly) replace or (in only some cases) renovate 67 city schools. While school officials' attitude might easily be characterized as “out with the old, in with the new,” TPS has had to confront increasing numbers of Toledoans who would prefer, thank you kindly, a wee bit more consideration of renovation possibilities.

So today, the Historic Districts Commission will throw itself at the mercy of plan commissioners.

“We want to ask for their assistance in lobbying, or in any of the areas they're involved in,” said the Rev. Kwiatkowski.

To chat with this Catholic priest about school plans is to have a conversation with a true diplomat. Lord knows, Father Kwiatkowski and his HDC colleagues would certainly like to say their discussions with school officials have been fruitful - but, alas, they can't.

Late last year, the TPS superintendent promised just the kind of discussion Father Kwiatkowski seeks: “If there is a strong sentiment from the community as to what they would like,” Dr. Eugene Sanders vowed, “the board has indicated a willingness to look at those matters.”

But to the HDC, that tune's off-key.

“We as a commission offered our services more than a year ago,” Father Kwiatkowski recounted, “and were kind of ignored, or politely [told], `We'll call you.' But now we feel things are moving ahead, and we don't want to be left in the dust and come in as `reactionaries' at the last minute.”

Well, he'll get at least one sympathetic ear today.

Plan Commissioner Sue Wuest says the HDC isn't the only entity around town feeling left out of decision-making that has far-reaching, citywide consequences.

“There are people having meetings all around town who understand the amazing impact all this school building will have on neighborhoods and on life in our city. ... There certainly is the fear that this [planning] is going on in a vacuum. I'm getting the sense it's [ranging] from the business community to neighborhood activists - there's no group of people who doesn't have this fear, except for the people associated with TPS.”

In December, the Columbus Landmarks Foundation released a report highlighting cooperation among that city's schools and preservationists, architects, and others. The result? The Columbus board of education moved 10 of 11 historic schools from `replacement' to `renovate/add' status.”

“The thing is,” Ms. Wuest said, “there are people here who are committed to helping TPS. I hope [TPS] sees this not as obstructionist, but as people committed to community success. But first, they need to be allowed into the room to help make it happen.”

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