The Cleveland Plain Dealer reported earlier this week that the Cleveland Municipal School District Chief Operating Officer Patrick Zohn is open to selling their building headquarters. It probably didn't come as any surprise to Roldo Bartimole when he read the news, as he has been following the story for decades. Roldo saw the writing on the wall when the Medical Mart plans were starting to unfold and says that private industry has been trying to get their hands on the building since the 1980's.
Here is Roldo's eye opening piece on the subject that he penned in Febuary 2009.
Will They Steal Cleveland City School's Historic Building?
Just what I feared.
If the Cleveland Mall site is chosen for the Medical Mart & Convention Center we could expect a raid on the historic Cleveland School headquarter building on E. 6th, across from the present convention center. It sits on valuable land next to the mall underground parking facility in front of the Marriott Hotel.
A letter to the editor today in the Sunday Plain Dealer from Francis M. Coakley of Coakley Real Estate Company, suggests this public building be taken private with, of course, “federal, state, county and city incentives.” Coakley is a member of the Cleveland Historic Restoration Society and the National Trust for Historic Preservation.
You’d expect he wouldn’t even think of reverting the building to some private use. He suggests a “five-star hotel” as a “perfect fit” with the proposed convention facility.
It has been tried before. Development of the site as a hotel has tried for the historic six-story public building.
If a new convention facility sits across the street the temptation to steal the public building will be even more enticing than in the past for developers.
Coakley writes, “This hidden jewel must be brought back to its original grandeur.” With this, I totally agreed. But as a PUBLIC building, not some highly-subsidized luxury hotel.
Developer John Ferchill – Foxy Ferchill, I called him - had eyes for the building in the early 1980 and had the cooperation of the School Board president Ted Bonda. Both were part of a group seeking the city’s cable franchise at the time and heavily into political activity.
The school headquarter building is part of the city’s original Group Plan.
Here is what Eric Johannesen in “Cleveland Architecture, 1876-1976” said of it, “Cleveland was the first of a number of cities to make a comprehensive plan for grouping its major public building. More important, Cleveland’s Group Plan was the only one which was actually carried out with any degree of completeness.”
Harper’s Weekly in 1904 wrote, “Probably no city in the country, outside the Capitol, has undertaken the systematic development of public architecture and parks on so splendid a scale as has the city of Cleveland.”
So it should be “hands off” any public building in the Group Plan.
Mayor George Voinovich’s administration was offering everything possible – from a $10 million no-interest urban action grant to allowing the city to purchase of the building. The city’s purchase would circumvent state law. State law requires open bidding on such properties. Voinovich was eager to get the public property in the hands of private developers. Typical.
What stopped the raid? Several black elected school board members – Mildred Madison, Ed Young and Stan Tolliver – felt the move a slap at the black community. As black students were becoming the majority in the schools they figured, politicians wanted this historic symbol snatched away.
At the time I wrote four issues of Point of View, my newsletter, on the deal. I called it a “Shabby Affair.”
This possibility also brings up the issue of control of the Cleveland School System. The Cleveland Mayor names board members. They appear relatively unknown and voiceless.
I agree that the school board in the past was hectic and often irresponsible. However, the lack of an elected school board seems to insure a silent democracy. The two – silent and democracy – don’t go together.
So to Cleveland residents – watch out for the snatching of a historic building and a symbol of public education.