Rothenberg School is located at the corner of Main and Clifton streets in Over-the-Rhine, Cincinnati, Ohio, and was designed by Frederick W. Garber’s firm, Garber & Woodward, who was also responsible for other school structures within the city. The school, constructed from 1911 to 1914,(4) was named after it’s first principal, Louis Rothenberg. The school was later vacated and students were housed in the former Vine Street Elementary building on Vine Street in preparation for rebuilding of the Rothenberg School.(6)
In September 2007, state architects revised their construction cost estimates and found that it would be cheaper to demolish Rothenberg School and replace it with a new structure (4) by around $7 million.(6) A CPS memo from November found that the costs to maintain a closed school in the Westwood neighborhood outweighed any savings they would gain by razing and constructing a new structure. Additionally, the Over-the-Rhine Foundation and Community Council lobbied CPS to reverse plans to demolish Rothenberg.(6)
Cincinnati Public Schools (CPS) instead recommended rehabilitation and expansion of the existing structure in 2008, and awarded a design contract to GBBN Architects and WA Architects.(1) The initial project cost was $21 million,(2) but through modifications of the project scope and plan, was lowered to $16 million.(1) Work included the renovation of the Rothenberg School, the construction of a one-story gymnasium addition, and a new service drive along Hust Alley. The playground would be enlarged by 9,600 square-feet to meet the state’s minimum number of square feet for a playground at an elementary school.(3) The ground floor would contain early childhood classrooms, administration space and a media center. The first floor would contain classrooms and a cafeteria, the second floor would feature additional classrooms, music and art space, and the third floor would contain more classroom space.
On March 25, 2009, CPS, GBBN and WA presented an update on the design process for the Rothenberg School project.(3) Under the revised plans, 146, 154 and 158 East McMicken Avenue would be preserved (3) instead of demolished. 142 East McMicken Avenue, purchased as part of the Rothenberg project, would be razed due to a major fire in 2003 that damaged the rear floors and roof.(5)(7)
In August 2010, the city’s Historic Conservation Board voted to approve of the demolition of 217 East Clifton Avenue.(1) The structure, built circa 1830, had no standing orders and was needed for the enlarged playground. Other structures at 1616-1620 and 1630 Main Street were razed for a 67-space parking lot.
But 142 East McMicken proved to be a costly battle.(7) Historic preservationists and neighborhood activists fought the plans for demolition, and CPS agreed to work with the groups to save the structure. CPS agreed to sell the building to 3CDC for $300,000, but 3CDC balked at the high price tag due to the costs needed for stabilization and rehabilitation.(9) CPS was reluctant to lower the selling price. The city then filed criminal charges against CPS on September 14 for failing to stabilize the empty structure, which could have resulted in fines totaling $15,000.(8)(9) It was the first time that an Ohio municipality had ever charged another government entity. The charges were dismissed on November 9 after CPS said the building would be donated to a nonprofit that would stabilize and redevelop the building, but no target group was identified.
Later in the month, CPS submitted a new engineering report that stated 142 East McMicken posed an imminent danger of collapse.(7) The city’s lead building inspector conducted a wal through and approved an emergency demolition order. Razing on the building began on December 8.(7)
Earlier in October, CPS submitted an application for construction permits.(5) Work began shortly after and the rehabilitated Rothenberg School, rechristened as Rothenberg Preparatory Academy, will reopen in August 2013.