High school renovation on schedule as middle school plans take shape

A portion of the historic high school is incorporated into the high school's new east-side entrance.

As the renovation of Cleveland Heights High School nears completion, the district will enter the final part of its Phase I comprehensive school facilities renovation project and begin renovation of its two middle schools. The high school is on schedule to reopen to students in August. When school begins this fall, all district middle schoolers will attend the temporary campus at Wiley, 2181 Miramar Blvd., while construction begins at the Roxboro and Monticello buildings.

Construction on the two middle schools will take an estimated two years, with students returning to the renovated buildings at the start of the 2019–20 school year. At its Jan. 3 meeting, the Cleveland Heights-University Heights Board of Education (BOE) approved the design schematic for the middle schools, created by architects Moody Nolan.

In November 2013, the Heights community passed Issue 81 to finance a bond to fund $134.8 million of the $157 million project. The Ohio Schools Facility Commission [OSFC] was to provide an 11 percent reimbursement of eligible costs, which would then assist the district in financing the renovation of its elementary school buildings, for which the community would also have to pass an additional bond issue.

Phase I of the district’s facilities renovation project comprises four sub-phases: renovation of the high school athletic field and stadium; preparation of the Wiley building (to house high school students for two years and then middle school students for two years); selective demolition at the high school site, renovation of the original 1926 building, and new construction; and renovation of the two middle schools. The first three sub-phases have exceeded budget forecasts, leaving approximately $30 million for the middle schools.

According to Jim Posch, BOE member, it is uncertain if the district will ever see the state’s 11 percent reimbursement, and the board has not officially talked about the elementary school phase. “At the start of the project, the OSFC told us that we should receive the reimbursement in five years, but now they are saying it could be five years from now,” Posch said. He confirmed that this could hold up the start of the elementary school phase.

In 2014, the BOE appointed the Facilities Accountability Committee (FAC), comprising community members, to monitor the project and regularly report to the board on “the project’s status, progress and expenditure of funds.” The BOE called a special meeting on Jan. 26 at which Seku Shabazz, FAC chair, presented a written report on 11 specific commitments the BOE had made to the public during the facilities planning process.

The FAC used a green-yellow-red rating system to communicate how successful it thought the district had been in meeting each of the commitments. Eight items received “green” ratings, meaning that the FAC believed the district was on track to meet or exceed the community’s expectations: completing all Phase 1 work by 2019, achieving a minimum LEED Silver certification, increasing the energy-efficiency in renovated buildings, complying with the ADA (American Disabilities Act) in renovated buildings, relocating career and technical programs to the high school, preserving the core architecture of historic buildings, ensuring that the new construction design is consistent with the historic design of existing structures, enhancing safety and security in renovated buildings and maximizing EDGE participation—diverse hiring practices.

The FAC gave the “competition pool with community access” objective a “yellow” rating because there was “no concrete agreement between the city and school board yet about how the community would access the pool.” [The CH-UH Board of Education held a joint meeting with CH City Council on March 6 and worked out an agreement for community access to the pool.]

The FAC gave two items a “red” rating: the budget, and communication and community engagement.

Shabazz stated that the first sub-phases of the project were over-budget for several reasons, such as the unforeseen circumstances of poor soil conditions, increased labor costs and changes in the scope of the project. “The high school’s finished product will be excellent,” he said, “but because of the $104 million total cost, it is a possibility that the middle school projects will not have all of the components they should and there might be a feeling from the community that the overall project is a failure. And that might put in jeopardy the elementary school project.”

BOE President Ron Register responded that, despite cost overruns, the total project will not exceed its $157 million budget. “We will accept the report as presented,” he said, “But we also have a responsibility to enlighten the public on some things that are off target.”

Posch thanked the FAC for its work and stated that, although the middle schools renovation will not include everything, “we will know once the project is bid this summer what we can do with those [$30 million] dollars.” He explained, “We are told by our consultants and our experts that we can do a lot in the middle schools with what we have. Pretty much stuff that you don’t see gets fixed, which is the expensive stuff, you get HVAC in the buildings, all new electricity, new lighting fixtures, mostly new paint in pretty much all common areas, some reconfiguring of things to make the buildings more efficient. We don’t get new entrances, which is sort of sad. But we can’t overstep with what we promised the community that we would spend.”

Board Member Eric Silverman stated that because the middle schools project is not as invasive nor as comprehensive as the high school project, he did not believe there would be the same unforeseen conditions that there were at the high school.

Although communication and community engagement was not on the original list of 11 commitments, FAC members believed that there had not been enough communication or opportunities for the public to be engaged in the project. Chanelle Truitt, community engagement sub-committee chair, said that communication and engagement was the purpose of the FAC. She attended 27 FAC meetings and said there were ongoing discussions about the frustrations and concerns they were hearing from the community. She said that the district “started out strong with big meetings and working groups” but efforts petered out and engagement in the latter part of the project was “nonexistent.” She emphasized the importance of engagement in getting parents and community members involved so that they could be proud of the result.

In his concluding remarks, Shabazz concurred: “We want to change the narrative. Our schools are not viewed by people—even those who are in the schools—as as great as they are. [When the project is completed,] we will have a first-class facility. We hope that won’t be lost on the middle schools. We are a community that maybe took a few steps back, but we are back and better than ever. Cleveland Heights and University Heights is a community where folks should want to come to and raise their families.”

View a copy of the FAC report and the BOE’s comments here: http://www.chuh.org/protected/ArticleView.aspx?iid=5U32BB&dasi=3Y2I#sthash.5lTokyuB.dpuf. Videos of CH-UH BOE meetings are available at http://www.chuh.org/2017MeetingVideos.aspx.

Deanna Bremer Fisher

Deanna Bremer Fisher is executive director of FutureHeights and publisher of the Heights Observer.

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Volume 10, Issue 4, Posted 11:28 AM, 03.22.2017