West Side “Relief” High School
HIDDEN DECISION-MAKING AND SITE SELECTION QUESTIONED

by Chuck Hoven

(Plain Press, September 2004) The Cleveland Municipal School District ’s unveiling of a plan for a west side relief high school once again demonstrates CMSD’s disregard for public input into the planning process and their lack of imagination and vision for the future of children in our neighborhoods.

The plan presented by the district on August 24 th calls for the new high school—a replacement for West Tech – to be built at W. 65 th and Storer Avenue . The school is to serve high school students from Wards 17 and 18, yet the proposed location is in the southern portion of the target area rather than centrally located. It was chosen without any public input and revealed at a recent public meeting in the Stockyard neighborhood. (See related article.)

COMMENTARY

If you wanted to make it difficult for students to get to school, you couldn’t have chosen a better location.

The prime location in Wards 17 and 18 – the 18-acre site of Zone Recreation Center – wasn’t even considered by those choosing the site. The Zone Rec location offers much more promise and would be an educator’s dream.

Imagine a high school right across the street from a rapid station and on the #22 bus line – the most frequent bus line on the west side of Cleveland. The rapid station also is a promised hub for a neighborhood circulator bus, which would offer easy access to students living along other bus routes.

Easy access to public transportation would allow teachers to take students to Playhouse Square for free Showtime at High Noon events sponsored by Cuyahoga Community College . Student researchers could easily travel to the downtown library or to Western Reserve Historical Society at University Circle . A rapid transit ride, with very little walking, would allow a class of students quick and easy access to all the cultural and educational resources in University Circle . No Child Left Behind transfer students from other parts of the city could easily find a public transportation route to the school.

Being located in the EcoVillage could give designers of the building the opportunity to work with EcoVillage planners and the Cleveland Green Building Coalition to make the school an international model for use of green building techniques. Geothermal heat, solar panels and even windmills could be utilized on the large site to save energy costs while challenging the imagination of students and intriguing passing cars on I-90 with the wonders of the EocVillage. Being in the EcoVillage would garner students a number of educational opportunities and allow interaction with a variety of neighborhood residents, planners and environmentalist.

The promise of a high school worthy of the legacy of West Tech may be enough to once again gain the favor of the National Endowment for the Arts, which offered a $75,000 grant to create a showpiece design for a Cleveland Public School . The grant was given to the Kent State University Urban Design Collaborative, headed by Ruth Durak, to host a Cleveland school design competition. In a Sunday February 22, 2004 article in The Plain Dealer, Architecture Critic Steven Litt noted that the grant, awarded in July 2002, will be withdrawn by the end of this year if the school system does not act. He notes that the CMSD and the State of Ohio have thus far shown indifference to this generous offer.

Such a prestigious design competition would no doubt garner further resources to the site. The design of the new high school should pay homage to grand old West Tech at W. 93 rd and Willard (between Lorain and Madison ). The West Tech Alumni should be encouraged to adopt the school as their own, perhaps by sponsoring student scholarships and providing volunteers to assist with school projects.

The structure of the proposed 1400 student school should allow space for expansion in case the Cleveland Municipal School District ’s graduation rate for high school students reaches its goal of 100% rather than the current graduation rate of just over 40%.

A new school, easily accessible to students, with a variety of athletic facilities and easy access to the cultural and educational resources of the city of Cleveland , could certainly go a long way toward reaching that 100% graduation goal.

In contrast, CMSD’s choice of site seems to have only one thing in its favor – its availability – but shows several, very serious disadvantages. The school district’s proposed site at W. 65 th and Storer is dangerous and out of the way for the majority of targeted students. Students approaching the school from the north will have to cross the wide expanse of the K-Mart parking lot. The area has a huge amount of truck traffic and the bus routes would be inconvenient for most students, requiring multiple transfers. Industry and retail businesses in the area would find it hard to co-exist with the high school creating many potential conflicts.

If the Zone Rec site at W. 65 th and Lorain is utilized instead, it is large enough that both a high school and a Cleveland recreation center could successfully coexist. A city of Cleveland/Cleveland Municipal School District partnership on this endeavor could both save money and give Cleveland students a state of the art facility. Such a facility could have not only a gym and outdoor playing fields, but also a pool, racket ball courts and other amenities typically found in city indoor recreation centers. Ward 17 Councilman Matt Zone , in whose ward the Michael Zone Recreation Center is located, noted the center’s pool needs to be closed for refurbishing. A check by Schools Planning Chief Lynnette M. Jackson of Mayor Jane Campbell’s office indicates that the city of Cleveland currently has budgeted $200,000 to make repairs at Zone Recreation Center . Councilman Zone says he hopes to raise $1 million to help make needed repairs.

Instead of using funds it plans to buy out businesses at the W. 65 th and Storer site, perhaps the CMSD could offer that money to the city as its equity in a joint high school recreation center at W. 65 th and Lorain. The funds could help the city to add a pool, additional lockers and other recreational resources to the gym already planned for the relief school by the school district.

With the creative energy of the community placed into this effort the final product will be a lasting tribute to both the legacy of West Technical High School and former Councilman Michael Zone for whom the recreation center is named.

 

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