Infeld: Closing Gearity Will 'Kill Our City'

The proposal to close Gearity Professional Development School was a primary topic during a Monday meeting that included city and school officials from Cleveland Heights, University Heights and South Euclid.

University Heights Mayor Susan Infeld told the Cleveland Heights-University Heights School Board that if they decide to , it will “kill our city.”

“Frankly, it’s odd in an urban area to not have a public elementary school,” Infeld said at a that included about 20 officials from Cleveland Heights, University Heights and South Euclid city councils and the CH-UH School Board. “In an area that is urban with sidewalks, it is normal and kind to have an elementary school choice for your children.”

The meeting was called to , and the two most hotly debated topics — closing the only elementary school in University Heights, and .

Plan C, the third idea developed by a team of architects working to renovate and modernize the buildings, calls for renovating , and elementary schools, , and middle schools and demolishing and rebuilding .

The current elementary schools would serve pre-kindergarten through third grade and the middle schools would house fourth through eighth grades. The high school would also be renovated. All but the historic core, field and pool of the high school would be removed, and new wings would be added.

Classrooms would be much larger, divided by glass partitions and garage-door style doorways to create a variety of large and small group spaces. Hallways and other unused corners would become learning centers. The schools' outdated heating and cooling systems would be replaced, and energy-efficient lighting would be installed.

Gearity, Fairfax and Noble elementary schools would close and be repurposed for community use and potentially house after-school care and activities, health care facilities and a variety of other programs.

Karen Jones, school board president, said nothing is “etched in stone” yet.

“Closures of school buildings are never easy,” said Jones, who is a University Heights resident and attended the now closed Millikin School. “If we were no longer listening, if it was set to be done, then this meeting would not be taking place.”

University Heights Councilwoman Frankie Goldberg said though she was “thrilled” the meeting was scheduled, it was “long overdue.” She called Gearity a “crown jewel” of the city. would have closed Gearity as well but maintained a PK-8 or K-8 program at the Wiley campus, thus keeping an elementary program in the city.

School Board member Nancy Peppler said a large portion of the community as they called for closing several more schools, which is why architects went back to the drawing board and came up with C.

“...The elected members of this board did not sit around and make those decisions about what was going to be presented to this community as options. We left that to the professionals. We asked the architects and the administration and these group of people to come forward after they heard from the citizens review committee about what this community said that it wanted,” Peppler said. “…They came forward with two options, and this community said absolutely not to option A … and really not to option B.”

Cleveland Heights City Councilwoman Mary Dunbar also gave the kudos for applying the community's wishes to the latest design idea.

Jones read a portion of the factsheet distributed by the district about Plan C  that includes the reasons for closing , and , which include student population in the area, cost of renovating the buildings and the size of the properties.

Infeld said without a public elementary school in the city, parents with children will not choose to live there.

“We know from conversations with realtors and abstracts from academic research that if we cannot have a public elementary school, parents with children will not want to move to University Heights,” she said.

Infeld added that because the population in University Heights represents 25 percent of the populations of both cities combined, it’s only fair that the city get a quarter of the elementary schools.

“To pay taxes and not have any public elementary school in our city is wrong … We deserve and want and demand a public elementary school,” Infeld said. “Plan C is not the right plan. We need to talk about Plan D … this is the wrong plan.”

Cleveland Heights Vice Mayor Dennis Wilcox served on the . They studied the condition of the school buildings after the Ohio Schools Facilities Commission said the facilities were “unsatisfactory” or “need improvement.” The commission found that because enrollment has dropped, the district has too much space and not enough students.

Wilcox said he understands why the district needs to reduce its space from 1.3 million square feet to about 900,000, but a Cleveland Heights school cannot be a substitute to save Gearity.

“Cleveland Heights is the last city that had an elementary school close — Coventry. And I know it’s a hard decision for a community or a school board to have to make … and this plan, Plan C, proposes two more Cleveland Heights schools to be closed. So Cleveland Heights has seen a big effect on this plan as well,” Wilcox said. “…I don’t think closing another elementary school in Cleveland Heights should even be close to any topic of discussion.”

Peppler said it was "heartbreaking" that the primary benefit of repurposing the schools — creating centers for the community — was getting lost in the conversation.

Cleveland Heights City Councilwoman Cheryl Stephens said it all boils down to customer service, and the school board should consider the councils their customers. And many are not satisfied with the facilities plan product.

"Those of us who support great public education, which you have managed to continue to supply, which is one of the reasons that the entire Cleveland Heights City Council endorsed is because some things you figure out to do really well," Stephens said. "And we implore you to figure out how to do this well, too, so we can support you in your next levy."

Elizabeth Heasley May 21, 2012 at 02:50 PM
My family will be leaving the CHUH district at the end of the school year and I can tell you the reason we’re leaving has nothing to do with the quality of the education or the condition of the school buildings. I grew up in Shaker and the CHUH buildings I have been in are every bit as nice and well maintained. The custodial staff, teachers and support staff do a tremendous job. We tried private school and decided it wasn’t for us. We felt it didn’t contribute to the sense of community we longed for. After living in the same house for 9 years we didn’t know many neighbors and our children didn’t have friends in the immediate area. Our daughter entered CHUH and we enrolled our son in the preschool program. We found the community we were missing and were blown away by the programs offered before, during and after school. The reason we are leaving has more to do with property value, low interest rates and the perfect time to buy up. We listed and sold our house within weeks of plan C being announced and I have to say it’s hard to second guess our decision to leave.
Elizabeth Heasley May 21, 2012 at 02:51 PM
Going to various kindergarten open houses in the district, I found it amusing the district has to sell itself, but that’s just what is has to do. There are so many private school options in the area; the school district has to make itself an attractive option. My goal, as a parent, is to provide a stable learning environment with the fewest distractions. Moving gifted programs and changing educational themes, on what seems to be an annual basis, does nothing to attract and retain involved families. The district has a problem with fear, plain and simple. Families are scared to use the system and it’s a shame to realize plan C is just another distraction from what the true issue is.
Claire Robinson May May 25, 2012 at 06:37 PM
I agree, it's not about the building, it's about what goes on inside. A good teacher with the freedom to have a creative non-standardized-test-based curriculum and high expectations for the students can teach just about anywhere. (Well, walls do help, but as we know, they're not essential.)
C. Minot May 27, 2012 at 12:39 AM
The Board is looking to spend close to 300M to restructure the facilities. Why not take the 300M and hire teachers. Reduce all class sizes to 1 teacher and 5 or less students. That way they could use every building they currently have including Coventry, Millikin, Gearity and Taylor Rd. Academy. The kids would almost have the status of a private tutor. They won't have to lease or sale Millikin or close Gearity. This undoubtedly would result in better educated kids then disrupting the whole teaching process due to construction.
John Hubbard July 13, 2012 at 02:38 PM
Please consider signing this petition essentially asking the CH-UH Board of Ed to allow a year of honest community dialog before asking our community for $130 Million. http://www.change.org/petitions/cleveland-heights-university-heights-board-of-education-remove-plan-c-from-consideration-for-the-november-2012-ballot


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