Support for Saybrook Park expressed at UH town hall meeting
At a March 12 town hall meeting hosted by Mayor Susan Infeld at Wiley Middle School, an audience of 51 University Heights residents expressed strong support for the city's proposal to purchase the former Fuchs Mizrachi school to create new Saybrook Park. Fuchs Mizrachi, a Jewish day school, moved to Beachwood in 2010, closing its University Heights school.
Joined onstage by Frankie Goldberg, vice mayor, and city council members Pam Cameron, Tom Cozzens, and Adele Zucker, Mayor Infeld began the meeting with a few remarks about the proposal. She displayed a chart showing that University Heights is one of only a small handful among the 57 municipalities in Cuyahoga County that currently lack a public park. She also cited statements by experts that open green space has the effect of raising sale prices of nearby residential properties.
Infeld explained that the purchase would be funded by using some of the $1.3 million surplus in revenues received by the city in 2011, and reported that the 85 residents who had contacted her by e-mail or phone were overwhelmingly supportive of the proposal.
Infeld declined to name the buyer's asking price because the deal is currently under negotiation. She indicated that the current school building would be razed because of its obsolete design and asbestos contgent, but the parking facilities and playgrounds would be preserved. She said that the sale price and cost of demolition could both be paid from the available funds. The city would use the same personnel and equipment that mow boulevard medians to cut the grass, at a small additional cost.
Most of the meeting was devoted to public comments and the response was strongly supportive. At one point, Mayor Infeld asked for a show of hands and only one attendee indicated opposition to the plan. Several residents pointed out that yards in University Heights tend to be small, and no public open green space for walking and recreation currently exists. Some residents suggested facilities they would like to see at the new park, including a community garden, nature center, activity center, wood shop, art studio, sports fields and walking paths.
Margaret Conti, of nearby Northwood Road, pointed out that younger families with children would be drawn to live in the area with the addition of the park. Cindy Rose, of Saybrook Road, said she is 100 percent for it because she wants to have more green space, fresh air and flowers instead of more condos and apartments. A few residents questioned spending money on the park when the city faces future cuts in revenues from the state, and money is needed for streets and upgrading city hall. The mayor said she intended to make sure that the park is a low-cost operation, and promised that she would form a citizen committee to oversee the planning process for the park.
Residents asserted that acquisition of Saybrook Park "speaks to the kind of community this will be for years to come." Many agreed that the city needs a place where the community can congregate, that the park has the potential to become a centerpiece of the community, and that UH can be a city with not just beautiful homes, but also a beautiful park.
Jeff Coryell is a visual artist, writer and community activist. He is a member of the boards of FutureHeights and Reaching Heights, and of the steering committee of the Sustainable Heights Network.