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Cleveland school district halts plans for new Marion Seltzer school after protests

Yellow caution tape is tied around the trunk of each of three trees on a lawn beside a fenced-in, asphalt athletic court.
Conor Morris
Ideastream Public Media
Trees located at Cudell Park that would have been cut down to make way for the new Marion Seltzer school. Officials announced on May 30, 2024 that the school district was pausing plans to rebuild the school after protests.

After months of protest from local residents upset over the potential loss of park space at Cudell Park, Cleveland Metropolitan School District announced Thursday it will be halting plans to rebuild the Marion C. Seltzer School on Cleveland's west side.

CMSD CEO Warren Morgan, Cleveland Mayor Justin Bibb and Cleveland City Councilmember Jenny Spencer announced the decision in a statement.

“After several months of engagement and conversations with various stakeholders regarding the proposed plan to rebuild Marion C. Seltzer Elementary School, the Cleveland Metropolitan School District (CMSD) has made the decision to pause the current rebuild plans," Morgan wrote. "While this decision did not come easily, we understand the importance of intentionally planning a rebuild that benefits all members of the community."

The school district has moved toward plans to replace the building - originally constructed in 1972 - over the last decade, including swapping land with the city of Cleveland to gain access to the park that surrounds the school. The district had planned to build the school inside park land, which would have meant cutting down more than 30 trees and moving park amenities like the basketball court elsewhere.
Local residents protested at board of education meetings, including marching to a board of education meeting earlier in 2024, over the loss of green space and mature trees. They had also filed suit against the district to prevent the project from moving forward. An injunction was denied by a county common pleas court judge in March.

A spokesperson for the group, called the Friends of Cudell Commons Park, welcomed the news in a press release Thursday.

"Cudell Commons Park is a highly used park, donated from architect Frank Cudell and is a sacred place with the Rice Butterfly Memorial honoring Tamir Rice," the statement reads. "We will continue to work in strong partnership with The Rice Foundation and Ms. Rice to advocate for the long-term wellbeing of our community so that Cudell Commons Park will be valued as a 'regional park' in all of the City’s future Parks and Recreation Planning. We look forward to collaborating with CMSD, the City and our council representatives."

Samaria Rice, the mother of Tamir Rice, had said she had not been consulted by project planners about the impact it would have on her son's memorial, which is located at Cudell Park. Bibb had previously said the memorial would have any be preserved in future plans.

"I support CMSD on their decision to pause on the plans to redesign of Marion C. Seltzer Elementary School near Cudell Commons Park," Mayor Bibb said in the statement. "Over the past eight months, I have heard from many members of the community, including the Friends of Cudell and advocates about their concerns regarding this project. As mayor, it is my responsibility to listen but to also to recommend action on behalf of our residents. I appreciate the active and engaged community members who have brought concerns about this project to our attention.

"I hear and understand their frustration and passion for their neighborhood. I also recognize the need for a new school, and I believe we can collectively work toward a solution that creates a unified green campus for students, staff, and community to learn and play indoors and outdoors while preserving the legacy of the Tamir Rice Memorial. "

Spencer, whose ward includes Cudell Park, said she appreciated the "listening process that has occurred over these many months," and for the superintendent's and the mayor's engagement.

Updated: May 30, 2024 at 6:11 PM EDT
This story has been updated to add a statement from the Friends of Cudell Commons Park group.
Conor Morris is the education reporter for Ideastream Public Media.