Cleveland's billion-plus-dollar school facilities plan is on its way to Columbus. Last night the school board approved the district's plan for replacing or renovating its 100 or so buildings - a project unprecedented in the city's history. 90.3 WCPN's Bill Rice reports.
Sound- meeting called to order
Bill Rice: With that, the Cleveland School Board prepared to deliberate final details of a plan that's been evolving for six months. For the last two the planning process has been very public - ever since a first draft of the proposal was unveiled in late March. The disclosure that 16 schools were to be closed in five to ten years drew protest from local leaders and residents. Many felt that the loss of schools would drive resident elsewhere, force down property values or ruin the historical integrity of neighborhoods. After ten weeks of negotiations, four schools were spared. Schools CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett said she supported the final proposal, but with reservations.
Barbara Byrd-Bennett: Should this plan be approved, my administration will go back to the table to determine very specifically where the district will incur overhead and operating costs in excess of $12 million. These dollars are the results of capital costs related to opening and/or operating costs related to maintaining the additional schools.
BR: Last night's meeting produced only a fraction of the indignation that followed the release of the original plan. Councilman Mike Polensik, one of the loudest complainers back in March, came to the microphone last night placated by the latest proposal, and happy with the boards efforts to listen to his concerns.
Mike Polensik: I want to thank the school board members for listening to the Collinwood community. The actions that you're about to take will reverse twenty five years of educational and racial apartheid that was imposed upon the Collinwood community. You now, before you, have an opportunity to not only move our community forward, but to position it to be one of the finest neighborhoods in the city of Cleveland.
BR: Some residents are still upset about the proposal, and let the board know. Doris Hanza lives near Garret Morgan Elementary School on Cleveland's near west side. Garrett Morgan will be rebuilt under the plan, and she's bothered that the school wasn't reconsidered for preservation.
Doris Hanza: I'm also distressed that a review was not done of Garrett Morgan and Kentucky and other historic buildings by consultants, architects who are well-versed, knowledgeable and practicing in the area of preservation architecture, and restoration and renovation of historic buildings.
BR: After public comments, school board members talked about the soul searching they've done over the past weeks. Chairman Hilton Smith reiterated what he said just five days ago - that the board will do what's in the best interests of educating children, and that no alternate plan would be passed that would sacrifice any of the 700 or so million dollars in state funding that's contingent on adhering to state construction rules. And board member George Dixon implored residents to have faith in the board's final decision.
George Dixon: We did our homework, we worked hard, we listened to you and to your friends and neighbors. Trust us. That's what I'm asking you to do tonight.
BR: The final plan now goes to the Ohio School Facilities Commission for its approval, which is expected by late August.