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The Master Plan For Cleveland Schools

Friday, June 29, 2001 at 7:48 AM

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The Cleveland Municipal School District is winding down its initial assessment of its 22 school buildings. That's the first stage in developing a strategy for how to spend more than $800 million from the recently passed bond issue and state match to refurbish schools. One state official says the assessment process will likely stretch into July, beyond the June 30th target originally set by by Cleveland Schools CEO Barbara Byrd Bennett. In the grand scheme, though, that's a minor delay. Talks on developing a master plan for rebuilding schools won't begin in earnest until the fall. And there are some unresolved issues. 90.3 WCPN's Bill Rice reports.

Bill Rice- At Joseph Gallagher Middle School on Cleveland’s near-west side, work proceeds apace to construct new classrooms in the school’s southeast wing. The space was originally designed for industrial arts classes, says Tim Caveny, construction manager for the district.

Tim Caveny- What we’ve done is demo’d out the original industrial arts space and built space for 12 new classrooms, teacher conferencing and some storage space here at the school.

BR- Joseph Gallagher was built in the 1970’s, making it one of the most modern of Cleveland’s schools. The space had already been temporarily converted to standard classrooms to accommodate an expanded student population. This project completes its conversion to a state-of-the-art facility.

TC- There’s a crying need for additional classroom space. The goal is to stay within state standards - 25 per classroom for elementary schools, and 19 per classroom for middle schools.

BR- The Gallagher renovation is one of a number projects happening district-wide over the summer, paid for with state and local funds. That’s just the tip of the iceberg of what’s to come beginning next year, when more than $800 million stemming from the May bond issue will flow toward school renovations in Cleveland. But just how those funds will be spent remains unclear. Mike Eugene is the Cleveland district’s chief operating officer.

Mike Eugene- We knew in anticipation of this major program we were going to have to go back and, in collaboration with the state, do a very exhaustive school-by-school approach just on bricks and mortar, but also take a look at the physical structure in terms of the provision for education.

BR- In other words, outfit them to meet the demands of 21st century teaching. That assessment is just about complete. The next step is to develop a master plan for re-building schools, and state and local officials will have to close some gaps in their thinking. One central issue is whether to build new schools or just stick to renovate existing ones. Again, Mike Eugene.

ME- Every school has some dire needs that must be addressed, and if we allocated very intensive investment in a single school it may result in another school not getting some very critical health/safety issues remediated.

BR- Eugene says the districts goal is to spread the money around to all 122 Cleveland schools, that way leaving no neighborhoods feeling that they were shortchanged. And for the school district that means there are no plans for demolishing any existing schools to make way for new ones.

ME- The CEO has been very forthright in saying this is a program about renovating schools.

Randall Fischer- Well, I wouldn’t necessarily say that.

BR- That’s Randall Fischer, head of the Ohio School Facilities Commission, which oversees local school projects funded with state money.

RF- There have been no substantive discussions. But from the state’s perspective, with over $800 million available, it would seem to me that there ought to be some new facilities out of this.

BR- And that view could prevail, under what’s known as the 2/3rds rule: When the cost of renovating exceeds two-thirds of the cost of replacing it, the building will be replaced. That rule was part of a resolution adopted by the facilities commission in 1999. But exceptions can be made, and Fischer says its premature to make any hard predictions.

RF- There’s a lot that needs to be figured out yet. I’m sure we’ll reach agreement on what’s to be retained and renovated and what to build new.

BR- Cleveland district Chief Operating Officer Mike Eugene says he shares that optimism. And while the bond issue money isn’t enough to cover all that’s needed to bring Cleveland’s schools into the new century, both say there’s a lot to be excited about. Joseph Gallager Principal Natividad Pegan feels it too, as workers transform her school’s southeast wing.

Natividad Pegan- I think when the students walk in August and see the state of the art learning environment they’ll be exposed to, with the latest technology and resources they’ll feel just as equitable to any other student in any other suburban community.

BR- Cleveland school officials, in collaboration with the state, hope to have a district wide master plan hammered out by January of next year. In Cleveland, Bill Rice, 90.3 WCPN.

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