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Published: Wednesday, 10/28/2009

Talks held on moving Longfellow Elementary

BY CARL RYAN
BLADE STAFF WRITER

To move or not to move?

The question, applied to Longfellow Elementary School, has become a topic of hot debate.

Opponents of a plan by Toledo Public Schools to build a new Longfellow in Bowman Park are crying foul, saying the new school should be at the site of the current building, 4112 Jackman Rd., to preserve the declining neighborhood around it.

Supporters say the plan to replace the 80-year-old Longfellow - the largest elementary in the district - with a state-of-the-art school at the park, making it part of a campus-like setting with Start High School and the West Toledo YMCA, would serve the best interests of children.

Last night, both sides offered their views at a public meeting in Augsburg Lutheran Church called by Toledo City Council members Lindsay Webb and Tom Waniewski.

Building the school in the northwest corner of Bowman Park would require the city to agree to swap the park land for the property being vacated on Jackman.

Ms. Webb told the 80 people in the Augsburg sanctuary such a land exchange would require council's consent. She said she wanted to hear from citizens before deciding how to vote.

Among those attending were Robert Reinbolt, Mayor Carty Finkbeiner's chief of staff, and John Gilliland, the school district's chief business manager.

Mr. Gilliland explained that putting the new school at the current Longfellow site would mean relocating more than 600 students to another building while demolition and construction were under way. The temporary housing could be the closed Nathan Hale Elementary.

This didn't sit well with Katie Johnson, who said she would put her children in a private school before she would send them to Nathan Hale. Ms. Johnson, a Commonwealth Avenue resident, was part of a group wearing red T-shirts stenciled with the message "Make the Move for Longfellow."

"My stepson has been playing baseball at Bowman for 3 1/2 years. It's a 10-minute bike ride. It's a better location," she said.

Opponents of the move said they feel moving Longfellow would hasten the decline of their faltering neighborhood.

"I think that pulling a long-time institution out of the neighborhood would only make things worse," said Tom Miller, who lives on Berwick Avenue.

Mr. Reinbolt said the old Longfellow building would not become a derelict structure. The old building would be demolished by the school district, he explained, and the city would maintain the vacant property for whatever use was decided on.

"The city would work with the community and neighborhood to develop it," he said. "It's not going to be industrial. I don't see it as being commercial."

Longfellow Principal Sue Joseph said the Bowman Park site would be safer for students.

"We're right on Jackman Road. The kids walk out of the building and they're right on Jackman, which is a busy street. I would love to have that new location. It's a park. It's beautiful," Ms. Joseph said.

Contact Carl Ryan at:

carlryan@theblade.com

or 419-724-6050.



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