The Cleveland Heights-University Heights Board of Education closed the Coventry Elementary School in 2007. One year later, the Coventry School Study Committee — made up of 23 citizens from both cities — released its recommendations for the future of the building. After six public meetings, the committee strongly urged preserving the adjacent Coventry P.E.A.C.E. Park & Playground, and leasing the building in order to cover the school district’s costs (a quick sale was deemed highly unlikely, given the glut of empty school buildings already on the market.). The report called special attention to “a conceptual outline of a proposal to convert Coventry to a multi-tenant reuse by a potential consortium of [local] arts and nonprofits organizations.”
In 2010, that imagined “consortium” began to take shape when Ensemble Theatre and the district agreed to a lease. Some other tenants came and went, but the building — renamed Coventry Commons — took on its current identity with the additions of Lake Erie Ink; Village Childcare; Urban Oak School; Family Connections; FutureHeights; Reaching Heights; and ARTFUL. Combined they serve more than 5,000 people annually.
In May 2017, the tenants were informed that the school district intended to sell the building, and that their leases would convert to month-to-month in July. Suddenly faced with uncertain futures, the tenants united to press the district and the City of Cleveland Heights to commit to one-year lease renewals and an open, collaborative process to explore developing the site as a permanent arts, culture and education center.
After dozens of people rose to speak in support of the tenants at City Council meetings in June, Council agreed to solicit public input before releasing a formal request for proposals (RFP) for development plans, and to enter into a Memorandum of Understanding that extends the tenants’ leases through June 2018.
On Sept. 11, the tenant steering committee presented a proposal to City Council during the Committee of the Whole meeting. Council members asked questions, and some supporters of the proposal addressed Council during the public comment period. No determination of next steps was made at that time.
On Sept. 27, the tenants presented their vision at a community meeting that was attended by more than 100 people. The response was overwhelmingly positive. You can watch video of the entire meeting, or brief cuts on specific topics, at our Youtube channel.
At the Oct. 2 City Council meeting, Councilmembers Ungar, Yasinow, Seren and Stein expressed support for meetings between the tenants’ group and the city’s professional staff to discuss the future of this proposal. The first meeting occurred about a week later. Mayor Stephens and City Manager Tanisha Briley expressed willingness to find a way work with us, but also suggested that the Board of Education may expect the city to proceed with an RFQ/RFP process to find developers interested in the site, as they apparently agreed before the tenants were aware of the Board’s plans to unload the property.
The tenants’ initial offers to meet with the Board of Education were rebuffed. On Nov. 6, the board discussed the Coventry building at its public meeting (video; the relevant portion begins at 1:13:00). Their discussion was about leases, rents and costs; the campus proposal was never mentioned. You can read our response and Cleveland.com’s coverage.
By the end of November, however, outgoing Board of Education President Ron Register convinced his colleagues to consider a proposal to turn the property over to Heights Library. In January, both entities announced plans to move ahead with that transfer. The tenants and Library officials then began discussions to determine the details of their partnership.