Updated at 3 p.m. Wednesday
The majority of the 300 people who packed ’s auditorium Tuesday night sent a very clear message to the Cleveland Heights-University Heights School Board: They want the vacant Millikin School to be reopened as a new school.
The over the Millikin School, which was closed in 2006 because of low enrollment, has been brewing for months.
But it came to a boiling point in early February when residents heard rumors there was a call center moving in, and Cleveland Heights Economic Development Director Howard Thompson said that an .
A group of residents who live in the Millikin School neighborhood told the CH-UH School Board at its that they wanted the Millikin School to remain as an educational facility, arguing it would significantly improve the neighborhood, increase property values and attract new residents. Several month ago, the Orthodox Jewish School , made a $550,000 offer to buy the school building.
But CH-UH Superintendent Douglas Heuer said the offer was too low, contending the Millikin School property was appraised at $2.4 million in 2005. And the district has offered to lease the space, as it would like to wait until the market improves before selling.
The school board and residents have been arguing at public meetings and via the media about the fate of the Millikin School. For example, in a prepared statement released in February, CH-UH Board President Karen Jones said the board had been informed unofficially that Mosdos officials had been discussing financial support from members of the business community in the Solon area concerning the purchase of the Millikin property with the purpose of subdividing it for residential development.
Mosdos officials have denied any such arrangement, saying they only want to operate a K-12 private Orthodox Jewish school at the former Millikin School at 1700 Crest Road.
Tuesday night’s school board meeting, at times, became confrontational, particularly when Cleveland Heights Councilman Jason Stein, whose children attend Mosdos, refused to conclude his remarks after a five-minute limit imposed by the board on every citizen who addresses board members.
Board President Jones told Stein his five minutes were up and asked him to conclude his remarks, but Stein refused, getting a standing ovation from the crowd. Stein also demanded that the board vote at Tuesday’s meeting to sell the Millikin School to Mosdos.
Stein argued the Millikin School, once a community asset, has stood vacant for five years, becoming a community eyesore and liability.
“This should never have been allowed to last this long and this should not last past this board meeting tonight,” said Stein, receiving applause from the audience. “Selling Millikin to Mosdos is the right choice.”
Stein also accused the school board and administration of making “disingenuous statements to the public and false accusations to the Mosdos Ohr Hatorah.”
The Cleveland Heights Councilman also challenged the $2.4 million appraisal of the Millikin School, claiming it was no longer relevant because the appraisal had been performed before the housing crisis and the Great Recession. Stein also said the school’s appraisal documents show the Millikin school property was valued at $874,400, as long as the property would be utilized for educational purposes.
Alan Rapoport, a former Cleveland Heights mayor and an attorney representing Mosdos, said he's waiting on the results of a new appraisal now, and it should be ready in a few weeks.
"There’s been a lot of speculation in the past about reasonable value of the property based on the 2005 appraisal. I think that it would be ideal for everybody to be convinced of what the reasonable value of the property is today without being unduly influenced by that 2005 report," Rapoport said. "The Mosdos number may be a reasonable offer, it may even be high. The purpose of getting a new appraisal now is to get better information that we can use in negotiation. It’s fair to say the School Board has a responsibility as guardians of public property to sell for a reasonable value."
And Mosdos received two budget estimates for renovation, which include a new HVAC system, electrical work, resurfacing pavement and new ceiling and floor finishes that range from $1.5 million to $2.5 million, he said.
Several Crest Road homeowners also spoke in favor of reopening the Millikin School as an educational facility.
“It cost money to maintain the Millikin School,” said Crest Road homeowner Calvin Lampton. “Why? Why are you wasting this building? Today, the community’s voice says (keep this property) as a school. I’ve lived on Crest Road for 25 years. I want to see my (home) investment grow.”
Susan Efroymson presented more than 1,000 signed petitions from residents asking for Millikin to offered for public sale.
In her prepared statement, Jones said, “The question is not to whom to sell the property, the question is whether or not to put the land up for auction knowing that the property values are at a historically low point. We must ask ourselves, as good stewards, 'is this the time to sell?'”
“The Cleveland Heights City Council has spoken on behalf of the Mosdos Ohr Hatorah, Mayor Kelley has written a letter and Mosdos has made clear their desire to purchase the use of the building as a school,” Jones continued in her statement. “The board views all of these reasons to be compelling enough to once again discuss the idea of putting the Millikin property up for auction. So Mosdos Ohr Hatorah, we hear you, we appreciate your being here and your need to expand in order to meet your school’s growing population. If Mosdos or any other group is willing to make a reasonable offer, we as a board would be willing to pursue communications and hopefully reach some resolution, within the parameters that have been set by law.”
For example, an action by the school board involving the potential sale of property requires a degree of privacy in order to assure that no one entity would be advantaged or penalized in any type of property sale. The board cannot and should not negotiate property sales in public, Jones said.
Rapoport believes once the new appraisal is complete, the board and Mosdos can have "decent negotiations."
"At the end of the day, (the sale of Millikin) not only has to be fair, but perceived to be fair," he said. "... It would be nice to have some guidance, in my clients point of view, what they should pay for the property and so the School Board knows what it should sell it for, so they’re not accused of giving it away."
Local Editor Michelle Simakis contributed to this article.