As people walked into Cleveland Heights City Council Chambers Tuesday night, it was clear why the room was filled with more than 100 people.
Children held up signs that read “Sell Millikin to Mosdos.”
The neighbors that live near the vacant Millikin School, owned by the Cleveland Heights-University Heights City School District, attended the council meeting to voice their concern that the district won't to sell the building to Mosdos Ohr Hatorah. The K-12 private Orthodox Jewish has offered to buy the building for $550,000, and residents say the board has not given Mosdos a fair shot to negotiate or further discuss the offer.
Although Mayor Ed Kelley said he could not officially take a side on the issue, he did say he would have the city send a letter to the school board asking for either a special meeting with city council to discuss just this issue, or one for the group of concerned citizens, or both.
When neighbors attended the school board meeting two weeks ago, the district distributed a press release that said the $550,000 price was not right.
Superintendent Douglas Heuer said in the press release that when the school first closed in 2006, it was appraised at $2.4 million.
“… 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,” Heuer said.
The board put the property up for sale in 2006 and received four offers, he said. 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.
"Recently, the board has once again engaged in a conversation about leasing the property, not selling it. Given the current real estate market, the board is concerned that a sale at this time would not provide for sufficient return in value for taxpayers," Heuer said.
City Economic Development Director Howard Thompson said a company from out of the state is interested in leasing the property, and although he can't yet provide details, it will bring jobs to the area.
Some council members said they agreed with the residents — a school or something other than a business should be there.
“I’m totally with you. I think it would be commercial use of that building would really be a terrible thing for that community,” said Councilwoman Bonita Caplan. “I know I wouldn’t like a commercial business next to my house or in my neighborhood … Nonetheless, it’s not up to us.”
Councilman Dennis Wilcox said the school board should have a special meeting to hear from Mosdos and residents, and “at least let us know what the rules are. Let everybody have a fair chance.”
City Councilman Jason Stein, whose children attend the school, has advocated that CH-UH sell to Mosdos. The school would invest $1 million in the building, restore the playground and bring children back to the neighborhood, he said.
He said the former Fuchs Mizrachi School building in University Heights was recently appraised at less than $800,000 and is about the same size as Millikin.
People at the meeting noted that the real estate market has since tanked and the school is now “an eyesore” after sitting unused for so long. It’s likely not worth as much, they sai. And the district has spent about $30,000 to maintain it.
Jessica Cohen said about 50 people tried to attend the special School Board meeting before the council meeting at 5:30 p.m., but they were not allowed to speak.
Kelley said he was surprised by that.
"I'm disappointed that a group of people show up at a public meeting and the school board didn't give them 10 minutes of their time," he said.
Look for more details from the meeting soon.