Coventry Elementary future studied: Committee to make recommendation on May 20th
The future of the former Coventry Elementary School property is being studied by a nineteen member volunteer committee which has been meeting since March 3rd. With three meetings of a six meeting schedule completed, the Coventry School Study Committee hopes to present one, or several, recommendations for the property’s use to the Board of Education on May 20th.
The 61,000 square foot “open school concept” building, designed by Cleveland architect Richard Fleischman in the 1970’s, was closed in 2007 due to declining enrollment. The building served students in Kindergarten through 6th grades, and also accommodated early childhood and Heights Youth Center aftercare programming. The adjoining playground, sitting on roughly three acres of the six acre property, was built through volunteer effort in 1992 and continues to be maintained and enhanced through a joint effort of Coventry P.E.A.C.E., Inc. and the District. The Coventry Arch, an iconic public art project that was sponsored by Heights Arts and Coventry P.E.A.C.E, sits on the school property as well.
The decision to close the school in 2007 was at the epicenter of a lawsuit brought by OPEN (Openly Promoting Enrollment Now), a grass-roots group of concerned parents and community advocates who sought an injunction against its closing. The group’s request was denied by the court in August, 2007. The building has been unused since June, 2007.
The building abuts the historic Coventry Village commercial district and residential area of Cleveland Heights. It poses a number of structural challenges for re-use or development according to various experts who have spoken to the committee. Among those challenges is an almost 100 year old deed restriction which restricts the property where the playground stands, west to the street, to “public school” use. The building area is zoned for single-family housing.
Other challenges facing the re-use of the building are the need for a new roof, HVAC system replacements, ADA compliant renovations, and window replacements, among others, according to CHUH Schools Facilities Manager Steve Shergalis. He estimates the cost of these basic upgrades at approximately $1.1 million. Shergalis indicated that other modifications for re-use would have an impact on financial scenarios. To date no serious entreaties have been made from developers for the property, according to the District. City of Cleveland Heights Planning Director Richard Wong, who is a member of the committee, said he had shown the property to a small business owner but it was deemed unsuitable due to “lack of windows”.
The potential for re-use has spurred local organizations to envision a nonprofit use that would serve community interests as well as the District’s priorities for use. Heights Arts will be submitting its vision for the property at the April 8th meeting. [See accompanying article.]
The ultimate decision about the property rests with the Board of Education. They hope to decide by June whether or not the District will hang on to the property or decide to put it on the market. At the March 18th meeting, District representative Joe Micheller said they have no facilities plan that dovetails with educational priorities for future programming and, as such, there is "no prospect of re-using the building for any District use,” he said.
About 20 curious residents have attended each meeting to watch the work of the committee. The meetings do not allow public participation but the committee encourages residents and interested parties to email their comments and suggestions, as well as to access meeting agendas and other information, at the District’s web site, chuh.org. William Wendling, the group’s facilitator, said in response to an email inquiry that the committee “may want to solicit public reactions during one of the May meetings, once the committee has narrowed some of the considerations.”
The next scheduled meeting of the committee is on Tuesday, April 22nd, 6:30 p.m. at the Board of Education. For more information, contact the Board of Education at 371-7171 or visit www.chuh.org and click "Coventry Committee" on the left side. To submit comments and questions about the process, send an email to email@example.com. Emails are automatically forwarded to all committee members.