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Library and School Board May Save Cleveland Heights Coventry PEACE Campus

[photo: Angie Hetrick]

A plan for the future of a local arts center and public park in Cleveland Heights is on the table this month.

Former Coventry Elementary School [photo: Cleveland Heights-University Heights City School District]

Last summer arts groups like Ensemble Theater and Lake Erie Ink were concerned they'd no longer have a home.  The Cleveland Heights - University Heights Board of Education no longer wanted to own the Coventry PEACE Campus (a former elementary school) and announced plans to sell.

This led a group of citizens and tenants to come up with a plan.  

Ensemble Theater's Celeste Cosentino realized it was time to circle the wagons.

Inside Ensemble Theater at Coventry PEACE Campus [photo: Tyler Whidden]  

"A couple of people who are local helped us conglomorate together and form a group that said, 'we have a stake in the building already, is there a possibility that we might be able to stay?"' Cosentino said.

Enter the Cleveland Heights - University Heights Public Library.

Cleveland Heights lawyer Lee Chilcote helped put together a proposal that would have the school board sell the property to the library as the site also includes the historic Coventry Village branch.

Coventry Village Library [photo: Heights Libraries 2017]

"The library has the capacity to support us and has done this previously with Dobama Theater and the library up at Lee Road.  So we were really pleased that they've stepped forward and been willing to acquire the property," Chilcote said.

Library director Nancy Levin made sure they reached out to the public on the matter first.

"We heard from our residents that they really cared about the playground, the park and the natural environment that surrounds that school building, and they also care about the activities that are taking place inside of it," Levin said.

Coventry Village playground [photo: Cleveland Heights-University Heights City School District]

Along with Ensemble Theater and the youth writing group Lake Erie Ink, the Coventry PEACE Campus also includes artist studio space and and the Heights Observer newspaper.

Earlier this week, a vote at the library brought the plan closer to reality.  The board of trustees of the Cleveland Heights-University Heights Public Library granted permission to the fiscal officer and Levin to enter into an agreement with the school board in Cleveland Heights-University Heights. The agreement would be to acquire the land at the former Coventry school and surrounding area, which is close to six acres.

"We are going to purchase the Coventry school building for one dollar, and this is allowed under the Ohio revised code.  School boards may transfer property to public libraries," Levin said.

Residents react to library vote [photo: Jack Valancy]

The plan now goes to the school board for approval.  

Board of Education Vice President Jodi Sourini said in a statement that the library's decision this week is, "an encouraging sign that we could have a resolution for the Coventry property in the near future.  However, we want to ensure that we make a decision that is in the best interest of the community."

The school board is likely to vote on the sale of the Coventry property at its next regular meeting on Tuesday, February 20th.   Prior to the vote that evening there will be an opportunity for public comment.  

Lee Chilcote is encouraged.

"We've been working on this for eight months, but that's often what it takes, and we not only are encouraged, we're excited about this we really are.  We think this is a real chance for Cleveland Heights to create something special," Chilcote said.

Provided the school board approves the plan, Nancy Levin looks forward to the future of the property.

[photo: Angie Hetrick]

"We're going to do some listening to what the residents want as far as the park goes and the playground goes.  We will also try to preserve the building and maintain the building so the tenants can establish themselves and then possibly take over operations of the building in two years.  That is our plan."

Levin adds that the library would allow the Coventry Peace Campus to manage themselves as a single entity and that the library could become a future partner in that group.

dave.deoreo@ideastream.org | 216-916-6244