Reaction to proposal is mixed

Also see: School could be razed for homes

Staff Writer

Oct. 28, 1999

Memorial School holds a significant place in the history of Collinwood.

On March 4, 1908, 172 children and three adults were killed when the former Lakeview Elementary School caught fire. It was the worst school tragedy in United States history, as a sea of humanity, trying to escape the oppressive flames, was trapped by doors that were latched at the top and could not be opened.

The school was rebuilt in 1909 and renamed Memorial School. It was used for classes until the late 1970s, when the Cleveland City School System shut it down.

Since that time, many plans for the building have come and gone. Among the proposals: reopening it as a public school, redeveloping it for use as the Collinwood Recreation Center and reconfiguring it to create an apartment complex.

None of these plans have come to fruition and with the latest proposal on the table to tear the structure down and build single-family homes in its place, many in the community feel this opportunity cannot be ignored.

"Even though I like the school, it's time we do something with that property," said Parkgrove Avenue resident Jan Dean. "It would be a marvelous memorial to new life."

Most in the audience at the Memorial-Nottingham branch of the Cleveland Public Library Oct. 19 expressed approval with plans presented by Northeast Shores Development Corporation to build 33 single-family homes on the property. Not everybody, though, believes the school should be torn down for such a project.

Local historian Carol Poh Miller said the building has an obvious historical value and is also a well-built structure that should be preserved in some fashion.

"The consensus among residents is to do something with the school (to preserve it)," Miller said.

Some among the more than 50 people in attendance said the building should be converted into apartments or condominiums, as has been done to other old school buildings in the city over the years. Northeast Shores board member Bob Matzen said those views are not shared by many in the community.

"There's a minority who want to save the school," Matzen said. "We've talked about doing something for five years. We've considered all the options."

Fellow board member Terry Kollar, owner of Fanny's Restaurant, said all efforts have been made to save the school, to no avail.

"Our initial thought was to renovate the school," Kollar said. "We haven't seen any great plans come through that are feasible. The neighborhood is tired of looking. We want some action."

Ellis Johnson, who lives near Memorial School on Ridpath Avenue, said he and his neighbors are tired of seeing a vacant building in their neighborhood.

"I've been in that immediate neighborhood for 13 years and the number one question everybody keeps asking is, 'What are you going to do with that building,' " Johnson said.

Lake Front Walk resident Cindy Barber said the building must be preserved unless there are truly no other options besides tearing it down.

"If the structure is as important as what (Miller) is saying, we don't have any structures like this in the area," Barber said. "If there's any possible plan we can put together for Memorial School, we have to do that. Otherwise, this is a great plan."

Bonniewood Drive resident Nan Kennedy said the architecture of the building is alone not enough to keep it standing.

"This has never been an area that has attracted anybody because of its architecture," Kennedy said. "This area attracts people because of the lake and its neighborhoods."

Donna Mieyal, owner of Waterloo Design Company, said the school property is an eyesore to the community.

"I, too, would like to save the Memorial School, but right now it stands as a disgrace," Mieyal said.

Lake Shore Boulevard resident Mike Troha said the building is no longer needed in the community. He said with the current housing stock in the area almost 70 years old on average, new homes are needed.

"We've got a chance to put some new life blood in this area and we're arguing about saving a school that has been vacant for 20 years," Troha asked.

Ward 11 Councilman Michael Polensek said he has mixed feelings on saving the building. Having grown up on Darley Avenue off East 140th Street, Polensek was aware of the importance of the building from the time he was a child. However, he also sees the importance such a development could have on the community.

"I want to make sure every stone is turned to find a potential re-use for the school," Polensek said. "However, I support what (Northeast Shores) has done. We've talked with a lot of developers about this site and they all say it's a great site, but no one is willing to come up with a reasonable plan."

Polensek said if this plan does materialize, he will be behind it every step of the way, except for the initial stages of construction.

"I don't want to be there the day the wrecking ball comes. It will be too emotional for me," Polensek said. "But there comes a point where we cannot continue to let it sit there."

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