Building for an unknown future

It’s official. Heights High is closed. A proud history that started in 1926 ended this June as a platoon of moving trucks pulled away from the school laden with remnants of a glorious public space that has changed many lives.

Now, shiny silver letters attached to the façade of the former Wiley Middle School spell out Heights High. They declare that change has arrived. This will be the fourth building since 1902 to provide a high school education to residents of Cleveland Heights and University Heights.

Construction crews and school strategists are at work transforming the 1950s Wiley building into a 21st-century educational environment in time for the arrival of our high school students in the fall. Don’t get too attached to Wiley, though, because in two years students will be back at Cedar and Lee roads, housed in their hybrid old and new high school building, which we hope will serve us as well as our nearly 90-year-old Tudor castle has.

While all this coming and going is disruptive, it is temporary. More important, it is a visible expression of the value our community places on education. We are fortunate that it is a community priority. We invest in the bricks and mortar of education, and the manpower and content of learning. It is a glorious commitment that has received steady support as Cleveland Heights has evolved from a small farm community, into a prototype elite suburb, into a national model of a sustainable integrated first-ring suburb.

Cleveland Heights was organized as a hamlet in 1901 and incorporated as a village in 1903. Education was the first order of business; community leaders formed a public school district and built a four-room brick school building on the site of today’s Boulevard Elementary. Lee Road School, as it was known, opened in 1902. The class of 1907 had five students—the Heights schools' first high school graduates. By 1910 the community had doubled in size and was home to close to 3,000 people. Its first public library opened in 1911 in Coventry School, and, by 1912, Lee Road School was too small. It was time to build a new high school.

A spacious building designed by Walker and Weeks to accommodate 400 students opened its doors in 1916 next door to Lee Road School. In 1920 Cleveland Heights had 15,560 residents, enough to incorporate as a city, which occurred in 1921. In the booming 1920s, the community invested in a city hall at what is now the location of Motorcars Honda. By 1930 the community had grown to 51,000 residents, and, once again, high school enrollment had outgrown its building. After only 10 years and multiple additions, the community invested in yet another new high school.

An elegant, spacious, up-to-date building opened in 1926, at the corner of Cedar and Lee roads. The new school was hailed for its grand auditorium and the amazing technology that gave every classroom access to state-of-the-art technology: the radio.

Multiple additions and upgrades over the years helped the building accommodate spikes in enrollment, which reached nearly 3,000 in the 1960s, and changes in educational technology, curriculum, teaching styles and physical plant management. Finally, the timeworn spaces, with outmoded and often incompatible operating systems, rendered this building expensive and obsolete. It was time for a fresh start.

Once again, the community understood, showed that it cared, stepped up, and in November 2013 approved a $134.8 million bond issue. Voters made it possible to build a new high school, a dream come true. Most of the current high school complex at Cedar and Lee roads will be demolished this summer, and a new high school will be constructed around the remaining historic core.

In the 20th century, population growth was the primary driver of our facility investments. But a shrinking world, rapid changes in work and the economy, technological innovation, along with climate change and the importance of resource conservation, are considerations in designing a school in the 21st century.

Cleveland Heights High School has moved, grown and evolved as our community has invested in the education of its youth. I am grateful that we chose this moment to provide our students appropriate and comfortable spaces in which to grow. I also appreciate the community members and educators who invested their time and expertise in trying to fashion a school designed for our changing world.

When 2017 rolls around and the doors of a new high school open, a new tradition will begin. Only time will tell if our newest building is adaptable to an unknown future.

[Correction: I mistakenly reported in my May column that Lynne Maragliono will retire this year. Her plan is to leave teaching next year.]

Susie Kaeser

Susie Kaeser is a longtime resident of Cleveland Heights and the former director of Reaching Heights. She serves on the national board of Parents for Public Schools.

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Volume 8, Issue 7, Posted 2:07 PM, 06.29.2015