CPS Wants Answers on I-70/71
By SUE HAGAN

Columbus Public Schools officials are concerned that further delays to their plan to renovate and expand the Africentric School, brought on by indecision on how to reconfigure the I-70/71 split, will add cost to the project.

The district plans to meet soon with representatives of the Ohio Department of Transportation to discuss the matter.
According to Carole Olshavsky, CPS senior executive for capital improvements, the problem is that all the options to untangle the overlapping highway affect Africentric in one way or another.

"In one of the schemes, the only alternative is putting the road right through our school," she said.

ODOT's preferred solution is to create one-way city streets parallel to the freeway, and one of those could be Livingston Avenue. A map of the scenario shows eastbound Livingston branching off at South Third Street, so that the existing Livingston -- which extends south of the school -- is joined by another branch that swings north of the school and brushes up against the highway.

ODOT spokeswoman Michelle May said routing the road that close to the highway could be expensive, especially if it has to be cantilevered over part of the freeway.

"In the options we're recommending for further study ... the Livingston option nicks the school building," she said. "Is it more economical to build around the school, or provide the funding to relocate the school? We have to jointly decide that over the next few months."

However, she said, no firm decisions can be made until ODOT and the city of Columbus decide on how to reconfigure the split. [See accompanying story.]

Africentric is among the CPS schools that are to be renovated or remodeled using funds from a bond issue, approved by voters in 2002. By now, the design process should have been under way, and the renovations on track for completion in two or three years.

But CPS has had to halt the process, and as each month ticks by, construction costs rise by about 1 percent, according to district figures; the original cost estimate for the project was $15.3-million.

The two sides have wanted to talk for awhile, but ODOT's plans have not progressed to the point where it can legally initiate talks with stakeholders. However, property owners can initiate talks at any point, and the CPS Board of Education will likely vote Tuesday to authorize the meeting.

"Our number one goal is simply to have answers sooner than later," said John Rosenberger, a member of the Neighborhood School Development Partnership -- the volunteer panel overseeing CPS construction projects.
"To the extent that the Livingston and Fulton alternative emerges, for Columbus Public Schools, new construction might be a better business decision; renovation might no longer be the best option," he said.