Neighbors question process to decide Coventry's future, float ideas for usage

Mark Chupp addresses the committee.

The Coventry School Study Committee, meeting the public for the first and last time on May 13, will take back to its deliberations a good bit of citizen input. About 40 interested residents attended the meeting and many spoke to what they'd like to see the school become and how they perceive the work of the committee.

Ideas focus on community-educational partnerships

Longtime resident Evie Morris proposed a dramatic arts academy, much like the Near West Theater. Susan Egan felt that a multi-purpose facility that encompassed an intergenerational focus using the arts and education would be a good fit. Rev. Colin Bossen of the Unitarian Universalist Society said his parishioners love the idea of keeping the playground and re-using the building for an arts center, as proposed by Heights Arts.

Adult literacy teacher Marilyn McLaughlin, whose district sponsored program, paid for by $250,000 in state and federal grants, serves over 500 students from 58 countries in morning and evening classes, spoke of the need to consolidate their classrooms which are currently housed in churches, the library, and the high school. “We would like dedicated space somewhere in the district,” she said. “We need a home, this might be it, and we’d be willing to share.”

Planning process questioned

Councilman Dennis Wilcox, chair of the city's planning and development committee, spoke of council's concern about the use of the space and the neighborhood, and that the timeline for the committee's work is too short. "My advice would be to take more time if you need it," he said. "Don't settle just because of time constraints."

Wilcox went on to encourage more study of putting the new International Academy in the building with other tenants. He spoke of the relatively low cost of keeping the building empty for another year versus the ultimate cost of making a bad decision if rushed. He suggested finding interim uses for the school as the district determines a more long-range plan for all its facilities, including Taylor school which houses non-instructional offices, and Millikin school which is empty and on the market.

Longer range planning and the need for a master facilities plan for the district was an issue brought up by a number of speakers, including Mark Chupp.

Chupp, a community development professional and neighborhood resident, spoke of the tremendous opportunity the school presented and asked “What is our vision for the district? How do you set priorities [for Coventry] when you don’t have a plan?”

Susan Jhirad questioned how the district could be considering preschool and International Academy programming in other buildings saying, “From the community perspective we were left with the impression that all elementary schools were full and there would be no more room for other programming.” Jhirad pointed out that when the concept of the study committee was agreed upon by the board in November, the administration recommended Taylor Road school be closed and the Coventry building be explored for new uses.

William Wendling, facilitator for the study committee, assured the audience that none of the points presented by the community would be ignored by the committee and that they intended to address each one.

Committee responds

With only 15 minutes remaining on the docket, each committee member was given a chance to respond. Many indicated perhaps they needed to slow down the process and not rush any recommendation. Ruby Gamble expressed frustration that they have been handed a difficult decision that, in the absence of a larger facilities plan from which to base their work, "we need to consider more study."

Peggy Spaeth, director of Heights Arts, lamented the fact that no master plan exisits for either the district facilities or for the city of Cleveland Heights on which to base their work. Citing the need for "approval in principal" from the board of education to move forward on any feasibility study for the multi-tenant arts and education center they have proposed, she indicated that the Heights Arts board is willing commit to working on a feasibility study, which would be costly, if given the go-ahead from the board of education.

Ray Gonzalez and Patrick Mullen said requests for proposals, formal entreaties to the profit and not-for-profit community, should go out.

University Heights resident and committee member Kevin Ortner said he was in a difficult position as a non-resident of Cleveland Heights. He is looking to represent all voices in the process and wants to be certain if the building remains in board of education hands that it serves all constiuents.

Committee to meet May 20

The committee’s next meeting will be Tuesday, May 20 at the Board of Education Building in University Heights. The committee has their work cut out for them, as the timeline calls for the creation of recommendations that evening. Whether they are able to get to that juncture remains to be seen.

In the interest of disclosure, the author spoke to the committee and asked for further study of the International Academy/multi-tenant center collaboration, and said that in the absence of a master plan for the district's facilities, the committee might have a difficult time doing its job.

Read More on Neighborhoods
Volume 1, Issue 3, Posted 9:00 PM, 05.14.2008