Old school: new ideas Coventry Study Committee closes door on International Academy

Coventry School Study Committee viewing school interior at its first meeting
The Coventry School Study Committee continued to explore use recommendations for the empty building in Coventry Village at its April 22 meeting.

Committee member Eric Coble, a member of the Board of Education and a resident of the neighborhood, presented a draft of the school district’s innovative new partnership in an International Baccalaureate School, slated to begin in August 2009, and proposed the program be located at Coventry.

Initially serving 80 students and adding a new grade each year, the school will offer a Chinese language immersion curriculum and will be run in partnership with the Shaker Heights City School District, the Cleveland City School District, Cleveland State University, and Case Western Reserve University.

While saying the district is “going forward with it no matter the location” Superintendent Deborah Delisle said the program would be a difficult fit for Coventry. Delisle said using the Coventry building would pose a financial challenge, and the initial student group would be so small the cost of setting up the school and housing them at Coventry would be a problem. When asked about allowing the program to co-exist with other tenants in the building, Delisle said she wasn't certain of the legalities of co-mingling uses. She explained the district has an open school in mind to accommodate the new program and a site closer to the Cleveland border is preferable.

Heights Arts, a local arts organization, is discussing the feasibility of creating a community arts center with other arts and education nonprofits. Director Peggy Spaeth, who also serves on the committee, said they are exploring the financial and environmental benefits of "greening" the energy technology of the building.To gauge the building’s potential for that upgrade Heights Arts has contracted with the Renaissance Group to perform an energy audit on May 12.

The committee encouraged Heights Arts to develop a more detailed plan for their ideas and said it will consider a recommendation allowing Heights Arts time to prepare the necessary feasibility plan to present to the board of education later in the year.

Superintendent Delisle floated the idea of studying the legal structure and issues associated with an agreement to lease the land as new green space for a dollar a year to the city of Cleveland Heights, provided the building were razed at a cost to the district of $500,000. Under the parkland scenario the city would take over maintenance costs while the district retained ownership for possible future use.

Dropped from further consideration were re-use as a school of any type, development for commercial or business use, or use as a community center.

The district stated definitively that it has no plans to re-use the building for either educational or administrative purposes, but has not made any decisions about selling the property.

Developing the property for commercial use is no longer being considered due to zoning issues, costly financial and physical challenges to retrofitting the existing structure, and lack of interest among developers.

Other potential concepts dropped from consideration were a community center and daycare or preschool programming.

Committee encourages neighborhood input at next meeting

The committee is moving forward with three scenarios that hold what they feel are the most realistic options for the property's future use: residential development; the creation of a regional arts center; or razing the building to create new parkland for the neighborhood.

To date, the district has had no serious proposals from residential developers. However, development of the property for residential use remains a possibility as the property is zoned for housing.

A live/work option was briefly discussed. Although not zoned for that use, Committee member and CH Planning Director Richard Wong said “the city is always open to zoning exceptions if the neighborhood welcomes it.”

The committee will meet two more times before making its recommendations to the Lay Finance Committee, which will in turn make its recommendations to the board of education.

While previous meetings have not allowed the public to speak, the next meeting will allow public comment.

Sarah Wean is a Coventry Village resident.



Read More on Neighborhoods
Volume 1, Issue 2, Posted 12:40 AM, 04.23.2008