Clifton Can: Old building brings new hope to area residents

Changes in community organizations are often slow to occur. But, thanks to an engaged and motivated population, Clifton is not like most places.

Over the course of the next month, two institutions will undergo massive changes, and the focus is on one of Clifton’s most recognizable landmarks: the old Clifton School on the corner of McAlpin and Clifton avenues.

By the end of August, the Clifton Cultural Arts Center (CCAC) will move out of the building after a decade of leasing the space from Cincinnati Public Schools (CPS). After that, the building will transform into the home of the new Clifton Area Neighborhood School (CANS), kicking off with a community-wide event on Sept. 7.

Jan Checco, a Clifton resident, has involvement in both projects: She’s on the communications committee for the CANS Advisory Group, and she’s also an artist who has had exhibitions and classes at CCAC.

She says the impetus for CANS was a need for a community elementary school option within Clifton. Study data showed that Clifton was losing residents when children were approaching the age of 5, as families saw there was no walkable community school option.

There is a school in the neighborhood — the Fairview-Clifton German Language School — but it is a magnet school with lottery enrollment, and it’s one of the top-performing CPS schools, which often means hopeful families are wait-listed.

“Part of the reason for our neighborhood school becoming necessary was because of the high demand for Fairview German Language School,” says Checco. “In the beginning of our discussions of how we could remedy this elementary school option issue, I believe it was one of the school board members who suggested we have a great opportunity with this hilltop campus location, where with the Clifton Rec Center (directly behind the Clifton School building), we can have shared facilities and don’t have to be redundant.”

As that vision has taken shape, it also has had direct implications for CCAC. While not easy at first, CCAC has come to see this change as an opportunity to have even greater engagement with surrounding communities.

“I think it ultimately is exciting,” says Leslie Mooney, CCAC executive director. “We’ve been the community learning center partner for Fairview German Language School, and we’ve mostly worked with Fairview, South Avondale, and Rockdale Academy. Now we’ll be adding CANS.”

CCAC coordinated a STEM initiative with those schools, called “Rockets to Robots,” and, once the first group of CANS students reach third grade, they can join. The evening program introduces third and fourth graders to hands-on science experiences and brings families together for a shared meal.

Community building is an important point in the CANS philosophy. It will not only be the assigned neighborhood elementary school for Clifton, but also for the CUF neighborhoods to the south closer to the University of Cincinnati, and for Spring Grove Village to the north.

“We want to build those relationships,” says Checco. “It happens naturally when you have a lively building and interested parents. We are looking at them as our brother and sister neighborhoods, and it’s interesting when you look at a map of the city. Our school is drawing from about one-tenth of the overall area served by CPS.”

The next year will be busy for both organizations.

CANS is starting its second year of classes in the Rising Stars Academy building down on Vine Street hill. They started last year with pre-K and kindergarten offerings, and those students will advance this year, meaning the addition of a first-grade curriculum. The plan is to grow sequentially until the school is a full pre-K through sixth grade institution.

Starting in September, an architecture and facilities team will begin working on Clifton School to determine what changes need to be made for CANS. But they’ll be inheriting an altered building, as CCAC made significant capital investments over the last decade, including an elevator and a sprinkler system.

That will result in CCAC receiving a $1.5 million payment for their investments, which will become seed money for building a new home of their own. CCAC has to be creative with continued programing through this transition, since they host everything from performance groups and exhibitions to lessons and classes.

A total of nine sites around the Clifton area will host CCAC programs in the interim, and CCAC’s headquarters and some classroom space will move to a building on Short Vine in Corryville, across from the Corryville Branch library.

Extensive discussions about where to locate a new home for CCAC have been ongoing, and the latest summary of the efforts can be found on the Clifton Cultural Arts website.

Much of the discussion has focused on finding an acceptable site in Burnet Woods, where CCAC already hosts significant performance programming. Those discussions are ongoing, and Mooney hopes a new site will be announced by the end of this year or early next year.

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Read more articles by Carey Hoffman.

As a Cincinnatian for almost all his life, Carey Hoffman has written about numerous subjects involving almost every Greater Cincinnati neighborhood. He enjoys history — both local and beyond — reading, anything to do with golf, most things related to basketball, and all things that make Cincinnati a more interesting and better place.