Citizens who want to save the old Claflin School building before the city turns it over to the federal government will have one last opportunity. A public meeting will be held 5:30 p.m., Monday, in the Council Chamber at the Citizen Services Center.
The building, located on Fifth Avenue, sits on the site of the first public school erected for black children in Columbus. The original structure was built by the Freedmen’s Bureau after the Civil War. It eventually burned down and the existing building was built in 1958.
The property was originally deeded to the city of Columbus school system in 1880 to be used solely for educational purposes. The district handed it over to the city about a year ago, after it became surplus property.
Deputy City Manager David Arrington said in a recent interview that the cost of rehabilitating the 36,557-square-foot building could deter investors. He said the building has been vandalized. It also has asbestos, lead and roofing problems.
“I think it was estimated it would take at least a couple million dollars to get those issues addressed, and that was about two years ago,” Arrington said. “Since then, there has been further deterioration and we don’t have a current estimate on what it would take to restore the building to a useful condition.”
Arrington said a few developers expressed interest and walked through the property, but when a Request for Proposal deadline passed no proposals were submitted. He said the city extended the deadline to January 1, and one developer, Pace Burt, submitted a proposal.
Arrington said Burt, who is converting the old Swift Mill on Sixth Avenue into a mixed-use facility with apartments, proposed using a portion of the Claflin building for multi-family units and part for an undefined educational purpose. But when city officials requested more details, Burt said he was no longer interested in the project, according to Arrington.
“We don’t want that building torn down,” Arrington said. “But we have to have people willing to make the investment.”