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. Over time, Ensemble was joined by Lake Erie Ink, FutureHeights, Reaching Heights, ARTFUL and others.
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.
Over the next several months, the tenants and community supporters developed a plan and lobbied city officials and BOE members. In November 2017, outgoing Board of Education President Ron Register convinced his colleagues to consider a proposal to turn the property over to Heights Library. In January 2018, 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. The transfer became official on March 29, 2018.
Heights Library Executive Director Nancy Levin told Cleveland Heights Patch: “Our goal is for the tenants to be independent. We don’t want to be landlords — we will be acting as a kind of incubator, supporting the tenants until they can take over ownership and management of the property themselves.”
Operating collectively as Coventry PEACE Inc., the current tenants have been negotiating with Heights Library for a long-term lease that would allow them to take the project to the next stage.