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UPDATED About 300 Crowd CH-UH School Board Meeting Over Millikin Controversy

City Councilman Jason Stein demands School Board Sell Millikin School to open a Jewish Orthodox School; School Board will discuss putting property up for public auction

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.

Miriam Rivkin March 07, 2012 at 04:51 PM
Is there a reason why city councilmen Jason Stien had to be told repeatedly to sit down by Karen Jones when the Legacy teacher who spoke beautifully on behalf of his principle was given eight minutes without even the slightest objection by Ms. Jones?!?!?! I beg your pardon, but the councilmen is as much a citizen as the school teacher. Both were upset and felt that their best interests and the interests of students and residents in the district were being over looked. So Patch, check your watch before you say ALL citizens.
Akiva Feinstein March 07, 2012 at 04:53 PM
Please make sure to examine for yourself the 2005 Property Appraisal which can be downloaded (icon right next to the photos above). This document shows clearly that the 2.4 million dollar figure offered by the School Board is misleading. The true value of the property in its current form as a school is $874k. It is ONLY worth 2.4 million if it were to be subdivided and developed into a numerous residential units which is not going to happen and that of course was in the bubble 2005 market not today. Further, no one, certainly not Mosdos has any intention of developing residential units there.
Susan Efroymson March 07, 2012 at 11:24 PM
Additionally, only is the 2.4 million invalid becuase it was from the height of the real estate bubble, but also BECASE it was for residential units which the school board said recently in a press release would not be acceptable to them as a use for the property. They themselves nullified this option as if Mosdos were considering it and hiding the fact. Although Mosdos never had such plans, the school board, had they truly been worried, could simply have put a deed restriction on the sale. Why did the school board create this non-issue out of thin air? Regarding the call for a degree of privacy: It is important to distinguish the process of getting to the negotiating table and the negotiations themselves. When we called for transparency it was about the apparent hush hush to rush and lease - for which the board need not be public at all and were not until called on it - the residentially zoned school to a call center requiring rezoning for business use. Right in the heart of our neighborhood and not a word to the residents! Followed by the diversions of citing exaggerated numbers not valid for the above mentioned reasons and creating rumors about conspiracy theories. Let's have a transparent open and honest discussion about getting to the table. The call is for School Board to open public bidding for the sale of the building and follow appropriate procedure moving forward to the benefit of the district, its residents, and mostly for its children. Susan Efroymson
Stephen Wertheim March 08, 2012 at 06:00 PM
We saw this with Mosdos as well with Gearity Elelmentary School. The District must be paid a fair market value for its property.The responsibility of the school board is to educate our children, and to further be a good steward of public finances. If the District is going to sell the property, it must put it on the open market to get the best deal possible. It cannot bend to one group or another. And if leasing makes the most financial sense at present it should do that. The City Council is interesting in that while it is quit to abate property taxes for schools and libraries and to tell other public entities to give away assets, it never gives back income tax. Therefore what they should be doing is suppporting what is in the best financial interest of our public schools.
Deby Brown March 13, 2012 at 03:05 PM
Of course they need to think about the best interests of the school district. I fail to see however how ruining a neighborhood can possibly be in the best interests of the district. Honestly, would you be as enthusiastic about someone putting a call center in your backyard? Further destabilizing a neighborhood and giving families yet another reason to leave can not possibly be of benefit to the school district or community at large. The lack of regional cooperation is astounding. Each entity continues to think only of it's tiny short term interests while the area continues to deteriorate.

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