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Principals get say in design of new buildings

Principals are getting a say in the design of their new school buildings.

“Visioning” sessions like one held Thursday at the District’s East Professional Center are required if planners want to deviate from guidelines for state-funded construction projects.

But the daylong meeting also offered school leaders and their supervisors what Chief Operating Officer Patrick Zohn called a rare opportunity to shape the layout and function of buildings that should stand for at least a half-century.

“We have invited you into the conversation early on,” Zohn told principals from Oliver H. Perry, Fullerton, Waverly and Whitney M. Young, which are all scheduled for replacement. “We are not experts in curriculum, we are not experts in academics.”

Oliver H. Perry, Fullerton, Waverly and Whitney M. Young are among the first of up to 22 schools that CMSD will build in four years, thanks to voter approval of $200 million bond issue last November. The vote extended a modernization campaign that began in 2001.

The District also will remodel 20 to 23 schools. The state will provide slightly more than $2 for every $1 that the District spends on new construction.

The Ohio Facilities Construction Commission has begun to allow more flexible design – for example, large classrooms that can be divided when necessary. Flexibility will permit educators to accommodate modern strategies like project-based learning, which calls for students to work in teams, and teacher collaboration.

About 12 districts have taken advantage of the opportunity, but Cleveland is the first urban system to give it a try, said the OFCC's Bill Prenosil. He said big-city projects are more complex because larger numbers of buildings and stakeholders who are involved.

“Everybody’s eyes are on this,” he said of the new philosophy. “They want to see if it’s going to work.”

Thursday’s meeting was the first in a series of steps that will conclude with completion of the schools in 2017. Similar meetings are planned for construction of at Sunbeam, H. Barbara Booker and William Rainey Harper schools.

The principals at Thursday’s meeting began by listing barriers to learning in existing buildings. Among the subjects of complaint were small rooms, lack of dedicated lab space and cafeterias that double as gyms or theater space.

Whitney M. Young Principal Karen Byron-Johnson said she was thrilled by the chance to “talk about my school, for my children, something from the ground up.”

“And to know somebody is really listening to me,” she said.