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Plain Dealer Editorial Board: CH-UH Should Sell Millikin. Do You Agree?

"Why the district would want to hold on to the sprawling brick building, tucked into a neighborhood of single-family homes in Cleveland Heights, is a mystery," the Plain Dealer Editorial Board wrote

The Plain Dealer published an editorial Sunday that urges the Cleveland Heights-University Heights School Board to "seriously consider" selling the former Millikin School.

The CH-UH school building that once housed a elementary and preschool closed in 2006 due to low enrollment and has been vacant since.

Mosdos Ohr Hatorah sent proposals to buy the building a few times, and most recently offered the district $550,000.

District officials contend that the building was appraised at $2.4 million in 2005, and Mosdos' price is not fair. They'd rather lease the building until the market stabilizes to ensure that the district and taxpayers get the best value, and said they offered that option to Mosdos.

“… we remain firmly committed to ensuring this community receives fair value for its investment. There is simply no reason for the district to sell this property at an unfairly low price,” said Superintendent Douglas Heuer.

The board put the property up for sale in 2006 and received four offers, Heuer said. At that time, the highest was $500,000. In addition, the board made formal requests for proposals in 2009 and 2011, but no one sent an offer, Heuer said.

Neighbors of the Millikin property and parents whose children attend Mosdos Ohr Hatorah heard that the board was to a call center, which is what prompted them to speak at a meeting February. Since then, hundreds of people have crowded and , urging the district to again put the property up for sale and allow Mosdos to negotiate.

Mosdos officials and supporters said the K-12 private Orthodox Jewish school would put in $1 million to $2 million in renovations, and an operating school in the neighborhood would help increase property values.

“It’s been five years. We’ve been waiting on a decision on a property that, quite honestly, is an eyesore,” said Councilman Jason Stein, whose children attend Mosdos. “On a regular basis, windows are being broken. There’s graffiti there. It’s hurting the residents.”

Since 2008, the has received more than 50 calls and complaints about the site, according to call logs. About a dozen reports indicated people broke windows and put graffiti on the walls, and three were breaking and entering incidents. Most of the calls came in when something triggered the alarm.

City Council members showed their support for the residents, and asked that the board (in addition to regular meetings) to discuss Millikin with residents and council.

The Plain Dealer suggests the district to find out the current, accurate value of the building, then start the process of selling it.

"It looks awful. Its 11-acre site is pocked with broken asphalt, dotted with peeling paint and haunted by the ghost of an uprooted playground. Its neighbors deserve better," the editorial board wrote. "The mystery of the board's reluctance to part with the property deepens when one considers that the district is studying the possible closure of ."

We've ran several articles and letters to the editor about the controversy as well. See our coverage below, read the Plain Dealer editorial, and then tell us, what do you think the CH-UH School Board should do? Take our poll below and share your thoughts in the comments.

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Fran Mentch March 14, 2012 at 12:17 AM
Eric you said: "it was a donation and discarding it without great pause is an insult to the spirit and memory of the donor. If the building is sold, at the very least do not sell the vacant land as a reminder and homage to the donation." Who donated it--the Severances? I appreciate your comments and totally support the idea of a conservation easement on the property. That piece of greenspace--Milliken and Severance Stables and the parcel linking it to the back of the Post Office, could be a greenway, giving the neighborhood a place to walk and bike around and go to Severance Town Center. Thanks again for adding your informed perspective to this important conversation.
Eric Silverman March 14, 2012 at 12:19 AM
With Taylor and Coventry both filled with tenants or programs, Severance-Millikin is the only building the District owns that is completely vacant. Its central location also means that it could be of use as swing space for buildings north of Superior. I do not have the details on the removal of the playground, but it is likely it was removed to use the playground fixtures at another school as well as the possibility of liability issues. I am speculating on the liability issue. Removal of the equipment is one of those actions that makes sense from a bureaucratic standpoint, but then creates a negative feeling in the community. While I will defend the BOE on holding onto the building, I agree with those lamenting the way the building has been maintained and the loss of the playground, as school grounds end up being the parks that are within walking distance.
Eric Silverman March 14, 2012 at 12:32 AM
Fran, the land was donated to the District by Severance Millikin, (heir to a half-interest in Longwood the Severance estate). This was in the early 1950s and includes the barns, the only remnant other than the fountain that remains from the estate. In the late 1990s Superintendent Masem had some concepts created on ways to reuse the barns as a nature/conference center with pathways connecting them to the school. At the same time, the owner of the Medical Arts Building was disputing their property tax valuation and I suggested the School Board cut a deal to accept the lower valuation in exchange for access or an easement to the barns from their parking lot. This would allow parking and easier access to the barns, especially if we put them to use. While the barns were just that, barns, and show lots of wear from lack of proper preservation over the last 50 years, from the blueprints one can see just how much thought and detail went into them by the architect, Charles Scheinfurth.
Akiva Feinstein March 14, 2012 at 01:14 AM
Some important points regarding Northwood/ Fuchs. The school was no longer needed already in the early 80s. Fuchs came along in '87 and rented and then purchased it. This acquisition gave the building almost 25 more years of life! People here are complaining that Fuchs held on it to while fundraising- for 25 years! The reason they had to leave it was because their school census boomed and most of their families were already West of there. Mosdos and Millkin is different. I would say at least 80% of the families live within a mile radius and are not going anywhere. They want a school for their kids to walk to. Mosdos has no plan to develop the woods into a soccer field. They are quite happy to leave the green space well alone and focus on the current developed structures on the property. Millikin is and will never be a suitable swing property. Does it make sense to spend millions of dollars to repair it and then use it as a swing location? There will be no lack of empty buildings in a matter of years. Severance Center is facing huge challenges in terms of his viability with the development of Oakwood Commons. Bike paths and parks are nice, but I must admit my wish is much simpler- keeping the neighborhood we have right now. Maintaining a neighborhood that has had an vacant school in its midst, Oakwood Commons going up right on the east, much more crime all around. Safety & stability first then we can worry about bike paths and greenways later.
Eric Silverman March 14, 2012 at 01:31 AM
Akiva, you are correct in the comparisons of the specifics of Northwood & Millikin are dissimilar but the general concept of holding title to the buildings versus selling them is similar. Shaker has been very successful in retasking their closed buildings. If Mosdos has no need for the current wooded portions of the property, then either deed restrictions or subdivision of the parcel (in the event of a sale) would not be out of bounds. Without the specifics of the Facilities Plan it is premature to say that Millikin cannot function as swing space during construction or other district functions in the future. It may very well be that modest renovation work to Millikin would be cheaper then trailers at school sites to avoid overcrowding. Only when there is a detailed plan with a timeline and funding in place will we know what role Millikin will or will not play in this process. IF the plan has no need or function for Millkin, then the discussion of its future is relevant. In the meantime the District needs to do a better job of maintaining the building, both the physical envelope and its general appearance.
Susan Efroymson March 14, 2012 at 02:27 AM
From what I have heard,, there was zero consideration of using Millikin as a swing building. With the depleted population, there seemed to be enough room using the current buildings and perhaps using Gearity. Either way, the BOE obvoiusly felt that MIllkin was not strategic and were moving ahead with plans to gut the building and lease it to a call center. With no mention of it to the residents it would affect. That plan would have lowered the property values in an area already under assault by growing crime and the Walmart/Oakwood issues on both sides. Neighborhood schools add value to neighborhoods, and Millikin is sought by stable growing constituents. The sale to Mosdos would increase that stability, provide a public play area for the entire neighborhood, and by virtue of its long hours open including weekends, increase security for everyone living nearby. That increases value to the district. Additionally, there would be the annualized savings of maintenance and busing (nieghborhood children would no longer require it). The school board is elected by all the residents, and is charged with keeping their best interests in mind. Never mind that these are district kids, too. They are answerable to all who live here. So let's see, we increase property values, give people a reason to stay & move in, increase security, and save money annually: The school board is making the right move by getting a current appraisal. Let's hope the sale goes thru soon.
Garry Kanter March 14, 2012 at 02:35 AM
Kind of as an aside, the Walmart Village featuring Goodman Pahhk @ Oakwood has been mentioned more than once on this thread for it's detrimental affects on the community and property values. How is it that the perception that it was just a few dirty hippies that were against the rezoning take hold? Did y'all speak up before the vote took place? Anybody interested in seeing if we can get it overturned? I have a plan that just *might* work. All I need is a land use lawyer, or a class action lawyer, and we might be able to save the East Side suburbs.
Eric Silverman March 14, 2012 at 02:44 AM
As someone who has attended every meeting that has been held in regard to the Facilities Plan I have heard no discussion of any details of implementation of the final plan as no plan yet exists. As such, the logistical details for the implementation of the plan and its utilization of swing space has not been created. The issue of population and space is open to interpretation. A classroom count of elementary school buildings shows that closing one building eliminates the "extra" classrooms, meaning that if more than one elementary building is closed for replacement or repair the rest of the population would be cramped. The oft cited number of 1.48MM square feet includes over 200K square feet that is attics and basements, meaning the actual square footage for discussion is much smaller. To the best of my knowledge any lease tenant for Millikin would have used the building's current configuration and not gutted it or altered its layout. This would be comparable to how the District has retasked Coventry as a multi-tenant building and Taylor with multiple programs. The District has erred in not maintaing the building better as well as taking the neighborhood's concerns into the disposition of the playground. With that said, the Board needs to determine how Severance-Millikin fits into its longterm facilities plan before it determines the fate of this building.
Susan Efroymson March 15, 2012 at 01:18 AM
With what it would cost to bring the building back up to usable condition - Mosdos intends to put about $1.5 million to $2 million to bring it out of its disrepair - the district would be hard pressed to justify that kind of cost in terms of temprorary usage as a swing facility. Granted, some of what Mosdos would do would be custom to their needs, but the amount for basic repair must be enormous if you break it out. Would they also replace the play ground temporariy for the swing usage? I can see no way that the costs would justify keeping it after they've already betrayed the richness the property once had to offer with neglect. Yes they should have maintained it. Had they any plans to use it, you'd think they would have. The cost of repairing that error seems too much to ask of the taxpayers. School Board needs to reinvest in its communities and bring value back to the neighborhoods. Sometimes, being a good steward means letting go. it's what they should do now.
Eric Silverman March 15, 2012 at 02:25 AM
At present it is premature to estimate how much any swing space would cost as the details of any plan and its implementation schedule are unknown. With a plan that will take years to implement (owing to its scale), it is conceivable that swing space costs could be into seven figures. Therefore it could be less expensive and easier to bring Severance-Millkin back on-line than other options. The point being once a plan is crafted and approved then the fate of the building can be determined. The District maintenance of the structure is one of many issues I have with the BOE, but I know these errors and omissions are not made with malicious intent. More times than not they are the victim of good intentions where the downsides or consequences have been overlooked or unexpected. In all of the tumult over the structure, three issues are being muddled into one. The condition of the site; the future of the site; and the value of the site. The first one needs to be address. The 2nd should be known in the next 6 months. It is the last that is the most contentious and open for debate. Whereas we can debate ad nauseam the role of the School Board, in reality their focus should be, when relinquishing property or assets, to maximize that value. In every transaction I have seen over the last 15 years like this, they have been one-sided and not in the District's favor, (spare for one and in that case the Board had to hold out to the last minute tooth & nail).
Nina Woolf March 15, 2012 at 03:10 PM
Couldn't agree more!
Michelle Simakis (Editor) March 15, 2012 at 03:46 PM
Thanks so much for reading and for sharing your opinion. Could you please use your real name? Everyone else on this particular forum has, and it's one of our terms of use for the site. Here they are for your review: www.clevelandheights.patch.com/terms
Fran Mentch March 15, 2012 at 04:17 PM
The building should be leased. The land is public now and should remain public. The land--all 3 parcels of it, stretching back through a wetland and including Severance Stables--should be put in a conservation easement. The city of Cleveland Heights should hold it as a greenspace. It would make a wonderful greenway.
Kathleen Salata March 15, 2012 at 06:12 PM
Where is the 150’ tree buffer at this point: On the Millikin properties or the Medical Arts and Cable properties?
Sam Bell March 16, 2012 at 01:25 AM
I do not have a horse in this race, but I do have some questions:What, exactly, has changed since last year, when the BOE last solicited Requests for Proposals for the Millikin property? As nearly as I can ascertain, the only change has been the emergence of a possible interest in leasing the site for commercial use. Yet suddenly Mosdos (which declined to submit a proposal last year) is in a hurry to buy the site for far less than the value of the underlying land (See Mr. Silverman’s apt analysis) The BOE does have an obligation to the Mosdos students as well as to the rest of the community. The students would be welcomed into the public schools with open arms, as would, I’m sure, those resident children who attend Ruffing, US, Communion of Saints, Hathaway Brown, or any of the other fine private schools in the area. They would find that they could and would receive a fine education here. As to the rest of the community, the BOE has a duty to exercise good stewardship of the assets it holds on our behalf, and that certainly includes taking better care of both the Millikin School facility and the stables. But does it include a sale to Mosdos under its proposed terms? Try this thought experiment: suppose Hawken wanted to buy the Millikin site for a pre K - 3 school and offered $600,000. Knowing that the land alone is valued at $3 million or more, should the BOE sell? What if Hawken offered $1 million? Heck, they’re well-endowed, how about $2 or even $2.5 million?
Garry Kanter March 16, 2012 at 03:25 AM
If Mr. Feinstein's views as expressed today on the PD's endorsement comments section are representative of his school system, I think he and the rest of them can go pound salt. I am beyond outraged by his "Hitler" reference, and I am disgusted by his apparent desire for special treatment. [Begin quote] --------------- akivafeinstein March 15, 2012 at 12:58AM Regarding Councilman Stein's speaking over 5 min: 1) At the very same meeting, another speaker, a CHHS teacher spoke a good deal over 5 min and he never received any instruction from Ms. Jones, 2) Councilman Stein asked at the start for more time and furthermore he is an elected official who has a right to speak for the people when their voice is not being heard. Pardon the possible diversion, but I felt these quotes might better say it: "If we desire respect for the law, we must first make the law respectable." ~Louis D. Brandeis, "We should never forget that everything Adolf Hitler did in Germany was "legal" and everything the Hungarian freedom fighters did in Hungary was "illegal." ~Martin Luther King, Jr., "Letter from Birmingham Jail," "It is not what a lawyer tells me I may do; but what humanity, reason, and justice tell me I ought to do." ~Edmund Burke, "Dare to do things worthy of imprisonment if you mean to be of consequence. ~Juvenal","When leaders act contrary to conscience, we must act contrary to leaders." ~Unknown [End quote]
Garry Kanter March 16, 2012 at 03:26 AM
Here's the link, the post was too long with it... http://www.cleveland.com/opinion/index.ssf/2012/03/school_board_should_seriously/4702/comments-3.html
Emily Jones March 16, 2012 at 02:09 PM
Gary, your comments to Mr. Feinstein are inappropriate and need to be removed. First, this is PATCH, not the PD. Second, Mr. Feinstein NEVER quoted Adolf Hitler! He did quote a very famous quote from MARTIN LUTHER KING JR! Gary, you are demagoguing and your inflammatory instigating should stop! Wow, you and Fran Mentch turn to name calling and put downs when you are unable to provide intelligent facts and thoughts to the subject being discussed. Please, look at how you both turned off the South Euclid (Oakwood) voters because of these mean spirited attacks.
Akiva Feinstein March 16, 2012 at 02:27 PM
Believe me any Jewish person who is aware of even the basics of the Holocaust would not go around referring to people as Hitler. Doing so is a terrible insult to all those whose lives were lost. I for sure DID NOT and I was NOT referring to the School Board! My point was that you cannot just simply define what is right by what is simply legal and illegal. There are special times when you need to speak out for what you believe, while still of course being a good citizen and doing the right thing otherwise. I was merely quoting a famous verse from a famous peace loving person, Martin Luther King, Jr. Bring back the peace to this thread please.
Garry Kanter March 16, 2012 at 03:37 PM
No, Ms. Jones, you are mistaken. Mr. Feinstein posted about Hitler, I simply brought attention to it. I did not call anyone any names. You should strive for greater accuracy in your posts.
Eric Silverman March 16, 2012 at 03:39 PM
I would have to say it is stretch bordering on the absurd to compare exceeding the time allotted in public comment at a School Board meeting to being a crusader for justice or dignity. As one who has been on both sides of the podium, as a critic of the School Board and as a School Board member, one should always respect the office, particularly if you yourself hold a comparable elected position. There are multiple ways to convey to the School Board opinions but grandstanding and not showing respect are not the best mediums. To say that such actions are needed to convey the sentiment of unheard residents would seem an odd rationale based on the attendance and speakers at meetings, not to mention actions by the City of Cleveland Heights, the same organization (I believe) brought the most recent potential tenant to the Board’s attention. Whereas my emotional feelings on this topic border on the vitriolic, I try to approach this discussion from a neutral position, which more need to do. I hold no animosity towards Mosdos, nor do I have a vested interest in their success. While I have no attachment to Millikin from an emotional or architectural perspective, I do feel that whenever the disposition of a public asset is considered, what is in the best interest of that public entity is the foremost priority. I believe a middle path that allows Mosdos to utilize Millikin while the BOE retains title is possible allowing for a win-win for everyone.
Emily Jones March 16, 2012 at 04:52 PM
Eric, the win-win for everyone is for the School Board to sell to Mosdos at the fair and TRUE market value (in 2005, that value was $874K - now (in 2012) right around $550K. As the Plain Dealer and Sun Press Editorial Boards have already exposed the School Board's False and Greatly Inflated 2.4M "appraisal" as a LIE. The people of our district have been LIED to by a government body (School Board). This school board should respect their office and the residents of the district and not lie about a property and also not to actively participate in the deterioration of school assets (Millikin) and the neighboring community for almost 6 years now! The school board has ignored and caused harm to the residents of the district (specifically Millikin and soon maybe up to 7 more schools will be closed). It is the school board that needs to have enough respect to allow speakers that expose the truth and represent many, if no the majority, of the districts view point, ample time to speak.
Eric Silverman March 16, 2012 at 05:25 PM
Selling the building and site for 550K is a win for only Mosdos. I wouldn’t place too much stock in the editorial boards of The Plain Dealer of Sun Press. The Plain Dealer still thinks Sam Shepard was guilty, and their front page routinely looks like layouts rejected by USA Today. The level of investigative journalism displayed by both of these papers is superficial at best, with The Plain Dealer having a long history of simplistic and just plain wrong opinion pieces in regard to the Heights Schools. The previous appraisal was not a lie nor false, as the 2.4MM value was based on the highest and best use, exactly what the owner of a property should look for when considering its sale. As I have stated previously, other ways to valuing the property illustrate why 550K may be viewed as too low. While I am opposed to selling the site at that price, I would be open to selling just the building, parking lot and playground area for that, assuming we break off the vacant and wooded portions. I am open to a compromise, just not a giveaway. When holding a government meeting you have to have some sort of protocol for how you will handle public comment, otherwise your entire meeting could become one person after another coming to the lectern to state a position, in effect filibustering the work of that body. Limiting public comment at a meeting so as to conduct the business of the District does not reduce the ability to let one convey their opinion.
Garry Kanter March 16, 2012 at 06:40 PM
My understanding of the 2005 appraisal is similar to Mr. Silverman's. And I would suggest Ms. Jones needs to check her tone. Calling people "liars" is not very civil, or accurate. The land & improvements were appraised at $2.4 million. For Ms. Jones to exclaim, "The people of our district have been LIED to by a government body (School Board)." is itself incorrect. Here's a link to the appraisal. "Parcel #3" represents the land with improvements at it's "highest and best use" (page 24 of the actual report, page 43 of the pdf): http://clevelandheights.patch.com/articles/about-300-crowd-ch-uh-school-board-meeting-tuesday-over-milliken-school-controversy#pdf-9273598 More facts and less stridency would be much appreciated.
Emily Jones March 16, 2012 at 07:04 PM
Gary, you understanding of the 2005 appraisal is incorrect. When appraised for use as a school (Mosdos is a school) the appraised value is $874,400 (page 12 of the actual report, page 18 of the pdf). This of course does not include the need for $1.5M - $2.5M in needed repairs to return the school to the state it was prior to its closing in 2006. Here's a link to the appraisal. "Parcel #3" represents both parcels of land when continued use will be a school (Mosdos is a school). http://clevelandheights.patch.com/articles/about-300-crowd-ch-uh-school-board-meeting-tuesday-over-milliken-school-controversy#pdf-9273598 Gary, please remember how you and your group lost Oakwood. More facts and bring back the peace to these comments would be much appreciated.
Eric Silverman March 16, 2012 at 07:22 PM
I am not sure of the relevancy of the Oakwood rezoning other than the squandering of a once in a century opportunity by the City of South Euclid for a new location for a purveyor of low-cost imported consumer items. The 2005 appraisal is correct in the value of the site by looking at multiple ways to use the property, not merely one. As the market for closed schools is finite and limited, the cost to build a new school less the cost to renovate it is a better way to determine a value of the school. The value of a commodity is based on its scarcity, location and use to someone else, not wishful thinking. There is no reason not to wait until the Facilities Plan is complete and approved to determine any role for Severance-Millikin by the District. If none, then entertain options for the building, and just the building. This rush for a decision is unneeded, unwarranted and leads to this acrimonious dialogue which is of benefit to no one.
Fran Mentch March 16, 2012 at 07:50 PM
Thank you!
Akiva Feinstein March 16, 2012 at 10:23 PM
Indeed time does solve things. However no one knows how long the Master Facilities Plan will take- legal and financial obstacles abound. Further Millikin is not even officially being considered in the plan. Did you see its name in any official statements or discussed much at the community meetings? Meanwhile our community sits with an empty school and frequent police incidents.
Eric Silverman March 16, 2012 at 10:49 PM
There is little mention of Severance-Millikin, the same way there is little discussion of Taylor, Coventry or the Board of Education Building, although all are structures future will be determined by this Facilities Plan. In the next few months the plan should be complete, vetted by the public and then have the Board act on it. By Labor Day, if not sooner, we should have a course of action with the only variable being the funding mechanism, which may be resolved by the end of 2012 as well. As I have stated previously, I agree with concerns over how the District has maintained the site since ceasing full-time utilization. I also support improving security to the site. School buildings are often a draw for youth looking for somewhere to hang out away from scrutiny and their large sites abutting back yards provide this. I know firsthand there are spots at Oxford or Monticello that only the most astute observer would know someone was at. I have nothing but intense anger, contempt and disgust for vandals. With that said, the District has erred in not developing a better way to discourage this behavior and I agree with those who seek to diminish this activity. A tenant in Severance-Millikin may reduce inappropriate behavior, but an occupied building is no guarantee of a cessation of activity like this. In the interim and moving forward we need the City and the Schools to work on a solution that will continue to be implemented into the future and not fade away.
Garry Kanter March 17, 2012 at 12:09 AM
Actually, Ms. Jones, I fought. The citizens of the East Side are the losers due to the SE city council's 7 - 0 vote to rezone Oakwood into a Walmart.

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