Coventry School Study Committee Discovers Deed Restrictions, Continues Its Work
The Coventry School Study Committee continued its fact-finding and discussion on March 18th, at the CHUH Board of Education. Facilitator William Wendling opened the meeting by announcing a recently discovered deed restriction. The property consisting of the Coventry PEACE Playground area and west to the street is classified as "public school" property.
The other half of the property where the building stands is zoned for single family homes. He stated that the property will be surveyed to more fully understand its intricacies and the results presented to the committee soon.
The Coventry school building is a 66,000 square foot "open plan" 70's school located in the historic Coventry Village neighborhood of Cleveland Heights. The Cleveland Heights-University Heights School District closed the school in 2007 due to declining enrollment. A nineteen member committee composed of community stakeholders is charged with presenting one, or several, recommendations for the disposition of the property. On May 20th these recommendations will be submitted to the Lay Finance Committee, which will complete its financial studies of the recommendations and provide them to the Board of Education for consideration.
District representative Steve Shergalis presented facilities considerations for bare-bones basic adaptive re-use, including a new roof, upgraded HVAC systems, and ADA compliance, among others, at an estimated cost of approximately $1.1 million. He said razing the building would cost about $500,000. The operational costs of the unoccupied property are currently $106,000 per year versus a cost of $138,500 annually when it was used as a school. If the property is placed on the market, state law requires the District to offer it first to any charter school within the school district boundaries, at no more than the appraised value. An appraisal is under way and will be available at the April 8th meeting. The only identified charter school currently within District boundaries is Greater Heights Academy on Taylor Road.
District representative Joe Micheller gave an overview of educational initiatives and priorities. He indicated that the District plans to expand its partnership programming and envisions the need for an intervention program for transfer students and the expansion of early childhood education programming. He said they currently have no facilities analysis in hand as it relates to these perceived future programmatic needs. In specific regard to the Coventry neighborhood property he said that there is “no prospect of re-using the building for any District use,” he said.
Cleveland Heights Planning Director Richard Wong, also a member of the committee, spoke about the property from a municipal perspective. He began his remarks by stressing that the work of the committee must result in a product that is in the best interest of the entire community. He stated that a developer could not come in without recognizing some of the issues attached to the property. He was asked to comment on the property as developable given current market conditions. He replied that it would be tough due to a bad market and the difficulty in getting financing. He also reminded the committee that Mayor Ed Kelley is a strong supporter of retaining the Coventry Playground. In Cleveland Heights there are over 100 units that are currently under construction or approved. Wong said the failure of the income tax levy in March diminished the capacity of the City to purchase the property. In addition, he said that the deed restriction on the property where the playground sits, indicates a high probability that that part of the property would be "out of play" for development.
To gain a developer's perspective, Dick Pace of Cumberland Development has been invited to tour the property and report to the committee at the April 8th meeting.
The committee then reported on the community input they had received. Facilitator Wendling characterized it as “clearly nonscientific, but important to hear even though it’s anecdotal.” Citizens ideas ranged from keeping the property a school, creating a business incubator, creating a community/arts center, to build housing, or demolishing the building to create greenspace, among others.
Heights Parent Center, currently a tenant in the Taylor Road School facility, expressed an interest in being a part of the new use of the building if possible.
Heights Arts would like to create a multi-tenant, multi-use community arts center. Director Peggy Spaeth, a committee member, said the arts are a proven economic generator for the area and the organization would like to pursue a community arts center "whether it's attached to this facility or another facility". Committee member Steve Presser, a Coventry business owner, felt that if the property were developed for the benefit of the community, it could then serve as a national model of collaboration and re-use.
Wendling concluded by saying the committee is pushing for solid proposals and it is time to hold “people’s feet to the fire” by asking all interested community groups to submit business plans for the Coventry School property. He reminded the committee that their role is to “guide and counsel, and to reflect the voice of the community”.
Tuesday's meeting was attended by 20 citizens.
Visit www.chuh.org “Coventry Committee Link” for information about the process. Citizens may comment to: firstname.lastname@example.org. Emails are automatically forwarded to all committee members. The next meeting will be held April 22nd, at 6:30 p.m. at the CHUH Board of Education.
Sarah Wean is a Coventry neighborhood resident.