A plea for Severance Woods
To the Editor:
Think of a favorite book you read with your parents as a young child, an actual book you could hold and share, something you will read with your own children. Someday your children may read that very same book to their children, and when they do, they will think of you and the world you made for them. What kind of world will that be?
Will your children walk to a neighborhood school in the morning, and play with their friends on the way home? Or will they join the rat race at age four and ride a bus to a huge commuter school? Will they make new friends as young families move into your quiet, walkable neighborhood? Or will they watch friends leave as families move away from an empty building that was once a neighborhood school? Will they enjoy trees and flowers and wildlife, or will they shrink away from yet another sea of blacktop baking in the sun?
When I moved to Cleveland Heights many years ago, the last thing I thought I would have to do is to make the case for preserving nature. After decades of environmental awareness, Earth Day, concern for the rain forest, and worry over global warming, I am astounded to hear plans—however tentative—to break through the Severance Woods, destroying one of the last vestiges of nature in our community, in order to turn a school building into a commercial building. Setting aside the controversy over Millikin School, the attitude that nature is of no importance, and can be casually paved over, shows a complete disregard for our community values. I think some soul searching is in order.
The Severance Woods is the key to maintaining the peace and quiet of a huge section of Cleveland Heights. When Severance Mall was built, the community was led to believe that a wooded buffer would be maintained, to protect the peace and quiet of the neighborhood from the noise and traffic of the mall. Over the years, there have been many encroachments, each one a breach of faith with our community. Some years ago, the new post office broke all the way through, so now we have the noise of trucks in the wee hours of the morning. (People who live near the new Oakwood Commons are about to experience this for themselves.) A road from Severance Circle to Millikin would cut through the thickest part of the woods, effectively destroying any claim left to respecting nature and the peace of the community.
If and when Millikin School is sold, the schools will want to sell the Severance Woods at the same time. I propose that the woods be designated as a nature preserve, with the advice of an organization such as the Nature Conservancy, to be held in perpetuity for the good of all. Unlike Oakwood, the Severance Woods are already public land, no money would be needed to purchase it, no tax revenues would be lost. Let there be no more encroachments—now or in the future—from the mall side or from the school side.
Think about the land surrounding your local school. Once the school is closed or converted, how will the grounds be treated? Play area? Woods? Community garden? Or an expanded parking lot for office workers?
Much has been made of the costs connected to the school facilities plan. But this misses the biggest cost to our community. The concern is not about the school budget, not about $40 million to repair versus $200 million to replace. If we give up neighborhood schools, the cost is our way of life. If we pave over every last bit of nature, the cost is to our souls.
Please attend the school board meetings and the facilities planning meetings, the city council and planning commission meetings, as well. Speak up for your values. What happens with the school properties will change our community forever. When you go home and your children ask “What did you do tonight,” what will you tell them?
Michael Morse is a longtime Heights resident.