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CMSD unveils new construction plan, will seek public feedback



CMSD has unveiled an updated set of scenarios for school construction, renovation and maintenance that Chief Executive Officer Eric Gordon says places more emphasis than ever on what the community wants.

The long-awaited revision of the District’s master facilities plan, released Tuesday, suggests building 19 schools, while closing four or five and relocating or replacing several others. Planners honored the public’s wishes to keep closings to a minimum and spare high schools altogether.

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The five-year plan, which is subject to approval by the Board of Education, would complete a building program begun more than a decade ago. It would continue work after state money that has typically covered two-thirds of the cost of construction and renovation runs out. To pay for the new projects, the Board would, in effect, ask voters to extend property-tax payments they agreed to when they passed Issue 14 in 2001. The current levy will drop significantly in January 2015.

The District is trying to maximize efficiency, save on operating expenses and respond to declining enrollment while also ensuring quality school options in every neighborhood -- a promise central to The Cleveland Plan, CMSD’s state-approved blueprint for reform. Gordon ordered that the building plan be flexible so the District could downsize if enrollment continues to shrink and accommodate growth if academic reform reverses the trend.

Planners took into account neighborhood population and enrollment patterns. For example, the vibrant Detroit-Shoreway, Cudell and Edgewater areas, grouped as one of 12 clusters in the plan, could see as many as three new elementary schools and a high school, though another elementary, Watterson-Lake, could close.

The team also attempted to complement private development and public amenities like libraries, recreation centers and parks.

“I think we have done, more than maybe anytime in the past, a much more thorough review of all the conditions that affect school planning and not simply look at the schools in isolation,” Gordon said.

Above all, CMSD sought to incorporate feedback gathered from 14 community meetings, a survey that drew 900 responses and telephone polling of 2,700 voters. The District also consulted City Council members, religious and philanthropic leaders.

“I value authentic community engagement,” Gordon said. “I think we have too quickly in the past said, ‘You like it, don’t you?’ ”

The public will get a chance to consider the scenarios and indicate their preferences for the plan during a second round of 14 community open houses that begin Wednesday and run through June 19. 

Gordon said the possible scenarios that will roll up into a plan are being finalized and will be the central point of discussion at the open houses. For example, Tremont Montessori enjoys public support, but a broader base of public opinion did not clearly pick between renovating the 97-year-old school or building a replacement.

Parts of the plan signal “a different way of managing real estate,” one that takes into account the impact on economic development, said Patrick Zohn, the District’s chief operating officer. 

“We have to be aware of and leverage the diverse investments being made in Cleveland’s neighborhoods,” he said. “Our school buildings are clearly part of the city’s comprehensive community development strategy.”

In the Lee-Miles area, one scenario proposes a land swap with the city that would consolidate John F. Kennedy High School, Whitney M. Young Leadership Academy and Charles W. Eliot PreK-8 School in new buildings on a campus covering part of Frederick Douglass Park. 

This scenario would free up property for housing development and expansion of the Lee-Harvard Shopping Center. Ultimately, the CMSD projects, in combination with previous Issue 14 work, would leave the neighborhood with all new schools.

Another scenario addresses the need for quality high school options on the West Side. After Max S. Hayes High School, a career-technical school, moves to another part of the West Side next year, two scenarios are laid out: The District could build another high-quality high school option on this site or trade land with the city to free up property overlooking Lake Erie for development.

And another unique scenario proposes moving Sunbeam School, for medically fragile students, from the Buckeye/Shaker/Larchmere cluster to a more centrally located and accessible site, the former location of Willson School on East 55th Street between Chester and Superior Avenues. 

Sunbeam would share the property with a relocated Case School (currently on a small site at East 40th Street and Superior Avenue), while the existing Sunbeam site could become part of the Skyline Campus development being discussed by Cleveland Neighborhood Progress, neighborhood stakeholders and the adjacent property owner, the Benjamin Rose Institute. A new CMSD school could be a central component to this valuable site overlooking the city and University Circle.

The Board will receive the final draft scenarios at its meeting tonight and could vote on a final plan June 24. The board would have until Aug. 6 to place the tax issue on the November ballot.

The bond issue would raise $200 million. Gordon said the amount includes money to finish the job started with Issue 14, maintain schools and, where possible, build features like auditoriums and athletic fields that the community wants but the state does not fund.

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Draft Cluster Scenarios (Note: The scenarios presented are possible DRAFT scenarios. No final decisions have been made.)