Closing Schools In the CH-UH District Remains A Hot Topic
The third facilities master plan selected by the Cleveland Heights-University Heights City School District calls for closing three elementary schools.
This is one of three articles covering the CH-UH Facilities Master Plan Community Meeting April 18.
Superintendent Douglas Heuer addressed the primary concern of many at a community forum to discuss the district's facilities master plan — shuttering schools.
“At these neighborhood meetings, the major point made was that we all must sacrifice a little in order to gain outstanding, state-of-the art buildings for all of our children,” Heuer said. “They also made it clear that they don’t want to see empty, boarded-up buildings. They said that the buildings must be re-purposed in a way that will benefit the community.”
The most controversial of the three has been Gearity Professional Development School — the only elementary school in University Heights.
University Heights Mayor Susan Infeld attended the meeting and read a resolution passed by City Council stating their support to keep a public elementary school in University Heights. She also organized a town hall meeting in the city about the proposal.
“I’m very concerned that families with children will not want to live in University Heights if there is no public elementary school choice,” she said. “I’m also worried people will not be able to sell their homes, so this is a financial impact to the city that could be devastating.”
Dori Nelson-Hollis stood with her daughter, Mackenzie, a third-grader at Gearity, who wore a yellow shirt with pink, sparkly letters that read “Save Our School.” Dori listed reasons why losing Gearity would be devastating to families in the area.
“First of all, I am a strong supporter of Heights schools … I advocated for the levy. We believe in public school education … and it’s because of that that we’re so concerned,” Nelson-Hollis said, adding that she agreed with Heuer that something needs to be done to get costs down and improve facilities. “I started my daughter as a kindergarten student, and a lot of people had negative things about Heights schools. But it was right there, and my neighbors went, and it was in my city, and I sent her, and it was fabulous. So it matters to have an elementary school. It’s different than having a four through eight.”
Lindy Burt, PTA president of Noble Elementary, is also worried that her neighborhood school will close. But she’s behind the plan.
“I want my kids to be in a building that’s uplifting and fun and meets the needs of a 21st century education — that’s what’s most important to me,” Burt said. “I have the sentimental feelings about it and the emotional feelings about it, but I do think something needs to be done about the buildings.”
On the Plan C fact sheet released by the district, factors for closing each are listed, which include cost to renovate, location and student population close to the school. For example, Gearity and Noble would cost more than Canterbury and Oxford to renovate, Noble is small and has "significant traffic challenges," and Fairfax is between Roxboro and Canterbury, so "choosing it would not allow for an even geographic distribution of the schools."
The cost to renovate or rebuild all facilities in the district is about $225 million, compared to the price tag for Plan C, which is about $189 million. And the student population is not large enough to justify keeping all of the buildings open, according to a report completed by the Ohio School Facilities Commission, which prompted this master planning process.
Marc Ciccarelli, architect with studioTECHNE who has led more than two dozen community meetings to hear input, said architects are still developing Plan C.
"The comments have been recorded, they're very important," Ciccarelli said at the end of the meeting. "We're still developing Plan C, and hearing these specific stories from residents was very important."
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