Residents share ideas for Coventry site
On July 27, the city of Cleveland Heights held a public meeting on the potential sale and development of the Coventry School site, which includes Coventry P.E.A.C.E. Park and Playground. The forum brought together members of Cleveland Heights City Council, the city manager and the city’s economic development director, as well as residents who voiced their opinions about, and hopes for, the Coventry site.
Attendees wanted to discuss what types of development might occur, how development would impact quality of life, how much influence a developer would have, whom would benefit from the development, and consideration of any similar projects that nearby cities might have undertaken.
Tanisha Briley, city manager, assured residents that any developer with whom the city may partner will not be able to tell the city what to do with the Coventry site. Briley said that “the train has not left the station,” meaning that no official decisions on the site have been made, and noted that when they are, residents will be informed. She stated that the goal of the RFQ/RFP process was “to stimulate creativity from the development community,” and that the city had set no minimum economic impact to be generated by development.
The fate of Coventry P.E.A.C.E Park was a topic that came up repeatedly. Many residents praised the park, describing it as “a gateway to the community” and “more than just a park.” Several residents who recently moved to Cleveland Heights claimed that the park was a deciding factor for them. Resident Noelle Celeste delivered a petition containing 892 signatures in support of keeping the park a part of the community. She stated that the groups housed in the Coventry building are “not tenants, but partners,” and called what they have created in the community “unique” and “organic.”
Other residents said they like the Coventry site the way it is, and suggested that the city look into ways of improving it. They questioned whether redeveloping it into something new would be beneficial. Evie Rosen-Morris, a longtime CH resident, stated that the “community needs an arts center.” She described the building as a gathering place, “the soul of our community," and implored the city to "please leave this space."
This public forum occurred in the wake of the CH-UH City School District’s May 10 announcement that it would pursue the sale of the Coventry School site, once home to Coventry Elementary School. The district closed the school in 2007, and it has since become a hub for various community organizations, all but one of which are nonprofit. Current tenants are Ensemble Theatre, Family Connections, Artful Cleveland, Reaching Heights, FutureHeights, Lake Erie Ink, Urban Oak School and Coventry Children’s Center.
On June 5, CH City Council authorized the execution of a non-binding letter of intent with the school district, according to which the district will sell the property to the city for $1 once a developer is selected.
The school district has estimated that $1 million dollars in repairs for the Coventry site will be needed in the near future, including a new roof, new wooden play structure for the park, plumbing and HVAC updates, and new windows.
In the aftermath of its decision to sell the site, the district opted to convert its Coventry building tenants to month-to-month leases at the beginning of July, rather than renew their yearly leases. This created uncertain futures for tenants and, along with other members of the community, they began to speak out during Cleveland Heights City Council meetings in June. Council requested that the city enter into an agreement with the tenants that would guarantee their ability to stay in the building through June 30, 2018. The city intends to do so through a Memorandum of Understanding which tenants are waiting to receive.
The tenants are working with their boards of directors, and other community volunteers with expertise in city planning, architecture and marketing, to research the viability of developing the Coventry site as an arts, culture and education center. The group, which also is working with Coventry P.E.A.C.E. (the volunteer group that built and maintains the playground), Heights Libraries and the Coventry Village Special Improvement District, has branded itself Coventry P.E.A.C.E. Campus.
The city has invited Coventry P.E.A.C.E. Campus to present its ideas to CH City Council on Sept. 11.
At the July 17 city council meeting, Jack Valancy, a member of the Ensemble Theatre Board of Directors and spokesperson for the group, addressed council members. He thanked council for giving Coventry P.E.A.C.E. Campus “the time to evaluate our needs and develop our vision for a redeveloped Coventry P.E.A.C.E. Campus that would include an art center, Coventry P.E.A.C.E. playground and park, and medium-density housing compatible with the Coventry neighborhood.”
Valancy stated that his group has collected 242 surveys from Coventry neighbors to gather data on use of the playground, park and Coventry building organizations’ programs. An online survey is here: http://coventrypeacecampus.org/sign-up/take-our-survey/.
Three girls, Sophia Ahmadadeen, 11; Jana Gustin, 11; and Chloe Gustin, 8, also addressed council on July 17. They expressed their sadness at learning that the site would be sold, and said that they had collected 529 signatures from neighbors who want to keep the playground and park “an active community space.” An online version of the petition is here: http://coventrypeacecampus.org/sign-up/sign-the-petition-to-save-p-e-a-c-e-park-playground/.
Video of the public forum will air on the city’s cable channel, Channel 20, at 7 p.m., beginning July 31, and is posted on the city’s YouTube channel at https://www.youtube.com/user/ClevelandHeightsOH.
Connor O'Brien is a senior majoring in communication and minoring in English at John Carroll University. He is currently an intern for the Heights Observer.