West Side Community House to break ground for new facility
by Chuck Hoven and Niki Nohejl

(Plain Press, October 2005) On Friday October 7th the West Side Community House (WSCH), an 115-year-old Near West Side-based neighborhood center, will break ground for its new facility at the northwest corner of W. 93rd and Lorain Avenue. The 10 a.m. ceremony will feature guest speaker Cuyahoga County Commissioner Tim Hagan.

Dawn Kolograf, Executive Director of the West Side Community House, hopes to be moving into the new facility early in the summer of 2006. A $2.6 million five-year capital campaign is currently underway to finance land acquisition, construction and furnishing of the new facility, said Kolograf. She said the capital campaign is receiving support from both local and national foundations.

Kolograf says the sale of the current West Side Community House building  will “make this move to the new facility possible in a time of declining revenues.” Kolograf stressed that there will be not be a change in service area, nor any interruption in services. “ A deal with the buyer says we will provide services in this building until we can provide services in the new building”, she said.

The West Side Community House has been located at the corner of W. 30th and Bridge since 1908. The Methodist Episcopal Church founded the WSCH in 1890 as the Methodist Deaconess Home of Cleveland. It moved about 10 times before settling on W. 30th and Bridge in 1908 and finally building the current structure in 1922. She said the United Methodist Church continues to see the West Side Community House as part of its mission and has launched a five-year campaign in the Cleveland District of the UMC in support of the WSCH.

Kolograf believes the move would allow the WSCH to be more centrally located in its service area. “It is our mission and objective to serve those who need us most and to be located as closely as we can to those we serve,” she said.

The new facility will merge senior centers at the current facility and the Simpson Senior Center on W. 86th and Clark. Currently about 75% of seniors coming into the two senior centers and 2/3 of those receiving home services live west of W. 50th, according to  WSCH Associate Director Terry Weber.

Kolograf and Weber said the WSCH Board of Trustees and staff began considering a possible move and looking at data on clients they were serving in 1993. Marlene Stoiber of MCS Consultants, a long time staff member of the Neighborhood Centers Association, was brought on to help WSCH examine its mission and prepare for the development of a long-term strategic plan from 1997 to 2002.

Weber said they knew that they couldn’t continue to operate two senior centers. “It is too expensive to run two programs,” said Kolograf.
“Fewer people were walking into the West Side Community House on W. 30th and Bridge. There was less foot traffic, “ said Weber. There was a steady decline in the number of senior citizens who lived in the immediate neighborhood around the West Side Community House, particularly of senior homeowners, Weber added. She attributed this to the reduction in affordable housing for seniors in the Ohio City neighborhood surrounding the West Side Community House. She said as seniors in the neighborhood age and move out of their housing or as their families sell their houses after their passing, other senior citizens are not moving into the housing because the price is prohibitive.

Public housing continues to be an affordable place for senior citizens in the Ohio City neighborhood. The number of seniors in Lakeview and Riverview who come to the WSCH Senior Center has dwindled. The population at Lakeview, which offers housing for the disabled, has become more homebound as people age in place, said Weber. Many Lakeview residents who once came to WSCH now receive meals from WSCH’s services to the homebound. Riverview has its own meal program

The reduction of affordable housing in the Ohio City neighborhood north of Lorain has also impacted families with children served by West Side Community House’s School Age Day Care Program. Many families who have move westward to seek more affordable housing still ask the school system to assign them to schools served by WSCH because of its program’s transportation to and from school, said Kolograf.  The School Age Day Care Program will continue to serve Walton, Kentucky, Paul Dunbar, Urban Community, Waverly, Booker and Orchard schools from its new location and hopes to add new schools. (Editor’s note: Schools in the Cudell and West Boulevard neighborhood such as Almira and Marion Seltzer are overcrowded, while the school system is closing and consolidating schools on the Near West Side – The Cleveland Municipal School District’s Facilities plan calls for the closing of Kentucky and Walton.)

The West Side Community House also serves as the lead agency in the West Side Family Resource Network, a coalition of agencies serving families with supportive services and advocacy. Increasingly the families using the services of the network are in the western part of the service area as well, said Weber.

Weber, who worked at the Simpson Senior Center for many years, said that WSCH has had a presence in the Cudell-West Boulevard neighborhood since 1976, through its participation in the Early Start program making home visits to young parents.

In discussions about improving the Simpson facility with Ward 18 Councilman Jay Westbrook and Cudell Improvement Executive Director Anita Brindza, WSCH learned that Cudell Improvement was looking for a signature building to serve as a gateway to the Historic Lorain District.

Thus began WSCH’s planning for its new building. The two-story, 20,000 square foot facility will be able to house all its programs and leave an option for expansion. The new facility will have 20 parking spaces and a playground extending westward from the facility behind Coreno Plaza to W. 95th Street.

Anitz Brindza, Executive Director of Cudell Improvement, Inc, the local development corporation in Ward 18, believes the West Side Community House building will compliment other developments the organization has completed on Lorain Avenue, including the Scharkofsky Building and the Southwestern Savings & Loan Building.

Cudell Improvement purchased and consolidated the five parcels at the site that WSCH is purchasing, said Brindza. Since 1996, Cudell Improvement had to purchase the site from three different owners, demolish buildings, make sure the land was environmentally sound, and hold the land until the appropriate development came along. Cudell’s goal for the project was to bring jobs and services to a well-designed building, which architecturally would compliment the historic district.

“That is why Cudell Improvement, Inc. showed the site to WSCH because we believed that WSCH could meet all the criteria set forth above. It is great to see the culmination of more than eight years work come to fruition,” she said.

Brindza says the West Side Community House helps fill a goal of bringing services to the area. Social Services providers have long talked about a gap in providers in the middle-west side of Cleveland. The facility also meets Brindza’s goal of being a job generator, bringing new employees to the neighborhood that will help generate business at nearby restaurants and small shops. Kolograf says the West Side Community House has 20 to 22 employees and an annual budget of $1.2 to $1.4 million.

For the West Side Community House the new facility also offers many attractive features. It is located on Lorain Avenue, where a major bus line offers easy access for day care parents from both east and west. It is also located at the base of a pedestrian bridge over I-90, making the facility accessible to foot traffic from north of I-90.

The new facility, which will be designed by architect Richard L. Bowen and Associates and built by General Contractor DAS Construction, will incorporate “green” features to help save on energy costs.

While recognizing the benefits of the new site, Kolograf says she still has an emotional nostalgic attachment to the WSCH building on W. 30th and Bridge where she has worked for many years. She believes the neighborhood’s historic designation will protect the exterior of the building. She believes the new owners will use it for housing or office space or some combination of the two.

For more information about the West Side Community House and their strategic plan check on-line at: www.gbgm-umc/westsidecommunityhouse


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