Friday, January 20, 2012

Cleveland Historic Schools Feasibility Study

Cleveland School of the Arts

With so much discussion of late regarding the demolition of historic Cleveland schools - most notably, of John Marshall High School and of the Cleveland School of the Arts - it seems worthwhile to look at why these buildings are being demolished.

I recently obtained a copy of Cleveland Historic Schools Feasibility Study, a report created by the Cleveland Restoration Society in 2006. Although the cost and population estimates have both changed since that date, the general numbers as well as the conclusions remain valid and worth taking a look at. In fact, if you care at all about preserving historic schools anywhere in Ohio, this is essential reading.

To quote the introduction to the document:
The Cleveland Restoration Society (CRS) undertook the Cleveland Historic Schools Feasibility Study as a means to better understand the guidelines used by the Ohio School Facilities Commission (OSFC), the state agency in Ohio that oversees and funds school building projects. Our goal was to examine four historic school buildings currently scheduled for demolition in the Cleveland Municipal School District Facilities Master Plan to determine if these buildings could be renovated to meet current educational standards and still receive full funding from OSFC.

The four schools covered: William Cullen Bryant; Albert Bushnell Hart; Audubon; and Robert Fulton, are evaluated in detail, with illustrations of their merits and liabilities. Full architectural renderings, including floor plans of existing and proposed conditions are provided.

A few surprises caught my attention:
  • Demolition and environmental abatement costs are not included in the the OSFC's replacement costs.
  • The OSFC's estimates of the square footage of the buildings is higher (in once case, considerably higher) than the actual square footage, resulting in the OSFC estimating rehab costs to be considerably higher than they should be. How much higher?
    • 34% (William Cullen Bryant)
    • 11% (Albert Bushnell Hart)
    • 8% (Audubon)
    • 23% (Robert Fulton)

The CRS sums up the findings of the report far better than I can, so I'll quote them directly:
These proposed design solutions demonstrate that historic school buildings can be successfully renovated to meet 21st century standards and to provide a high level of educational adequacy. We can preserve these neighborhood landmarks and not only have
schools that are just as good as new, but better than new because of the materials, craftsmanship, and artistry that have been handed down to us
that we could not afford to replicate today. Not only can be have facilities that are better than new, we can save significant resources by
preserving older buildings. The Cleveland Municipal School District can save $17.1 million dollars by preserving the four buildings presented
in this study. We hope this cost savings will convince district administrators to reconsider using renovation and new additions as an alternative to replacing many of the City’s significant historic school buildings.

Please, take a look at the Cleveland Historic Schools Feasibility Study - if we're to preserve these historic buildings, we need to understand the financial issues behind their repair or replacement.


  1. Take a look at and select Cuyahoga County. This site displays a number of excellent photos of schools that no longer exist or are threatened. How tragic that so many historic Cleveland schools have been demolished. Was it so difficult to find alternate uses for these buildings?

  2. Thanks for posting, Christopher. Your first bullet (about demolition & abatement costs) was brought up by a committee member during design review of the proposed CSA demolition last year. It was not refuted, but the Committee still voted to approve the demo without much debate. If CMSD and OSFC are supposedly leaning so heavily on the cost factor when making the decision to demo/rebuild v. restore, how can this be overlooked? Surprising and sad.