Board should take the time to make the right decision on Millikin
To the Editor:
Unfortunately in the cacophony surrounding Severance-Millikin Elementary School, three different issues are being wrapped into one, muddying the waters: the condition of the site, the future of the site and the value of the site.
I will agree with those who lament the current appearance of Millikin, and the CH-UH City School District has not helped its case by working to make sure the building and grounds look as good or better than open buildings, as doing this could thwart this vein of criticism.
The future of the site is more complex. While it is unlikely that Millikin will be used by the CH-UH district as the home of a school in the future, it may play a role in the forthcoming facilities plan as swing space, or in another capacity. Millikin may also be retasked for other district purposes in the same way Taylor Elementary has, with that building at capacity. The key point is, the plan is not complete or funded, so at the very least we should wait to see what the plan is, have it vetted by the public and approved by the Board of Education. If there is no role for the building, THEN the district should entertain discussions about either leasing or selling this public asset. The school board needs to determine the fate of this site on its schedule and its terms, not that of those seeking its purchase.
Much has been made of the value of Severance-Millikin Elementary School, and value is in the eye the beholder. Building a new school would easily cost $8,000,000 without land. If one were to put three times what Mosdos Ohr Hatorah is reported to want to spend renovating Millikin, one would still have a residual value of $2,000,000. Acquiring enough homes in the neighborhood to assemble an 11-acre site would easily cost more then $3,000,000. Based on current zoning, the site could accommodate approximately 50 homes. With a typical home on Severn Road having an assessed land value of $25,000, this would give the site a value of $1,250,000. A modest change in zoning for higher density development, comparable to what has been done for five other parcels from the Severance Estate (including one abutting homes on Crest Road), could double this value to $2,500,000. As the City of Cleveland Heights has facilitated, supported and assisted (through tax abatement TIFs) housing development on a number of less desirable sites, for the city to decree a change of zoning unacceptable would be hypocritical at the very least.
The point being, Severance-Millikin Elementary School does have value. If it is the condemnable wasteland some view it as, then Mosdos would be foolish to buy and put money into it, unless of course there is value to it in one capacity or another.
All parties would be best served by a middle path I suggested to Jason Stein and others in the past: a long-term (15-year) lease of Millikin to Mosdos. A $1-a-year lease, with Mosdos responsible for the building and grounds, puts the structure back into use. Key work the building needs are systems that would need to be replaced towards the end of the lease anyway due to their natural operating lifespan. Build into the lease the ability for Mosdos to renew, while also allowing the district to buy Modos out (in the unlikely event a need would occur), but with ample advance notice. In this way the public retains title, while Mosdos saves money upfront or that can be used (or added to) what they want to do to the building. A 15- or 20-year lease with terms like that would seem to be a win-win for both parties. Mosdos saves money upfront and the board of education retains title to the building and land.
What I find disturbing is the rush to decide the fate of the site by those who do not own it. I do not care for the attitude that if an offer has been made, the school board must accept it. Actions by members of Cleveland Heights City Council show continued contempt for their peers on the CH-UH Board of Education. Yes, the district needs to maintain the site better than it has, but why can we not wait until a facilities plan has been approved (and ideally funding has been secured), before a decision is made?
I hope this school board has the resolve to do what is in the best interests of the district, and not what is easiest to placate special interests and critics. Nearly every facilities action made by the school board in the last 50 years has been the wrong one. I do not want to see this board add to this dubious lineage.
Eric J. Silverman was a member of the CH-UH School Board from 1992-2001 and a member of the CH-UH Library Board from 2003-2009.