What does the future for the 1976 Coventry School building look like? A new pilot program holds the key to finding out.
The Coventry P.E.A.C.E. (People Enhancing a Community’s Environment) Campus has been chosen as one of only three Ohio organizations to participate in a pilot program conducted by Chicago-based IFF that will enable a feasibility study for the renovation and operations of the historical building.
The six-acre P.E.A.C.E. Campus is located in Cleveland Heights at the corner of Coventry Road and Euclid Heights Boulevard. Coventry P.E.A.C.E. board members say they envision the campus as a hub for community and nonprofit collaboration, as well an anchor for retail stores and restaurants in the Coventry Village business community.
Celeste Cosentino, executive artistic director for Ensemble Theatre, is a Coventry P.E.A.C.E. tenant. She says she envisions the area developing into something that mirrors University Circle and the Cleveland Museum of Art or the Gordon Square Arts District.
Coventry P.E.A.C.E. ParkCurrently, the campus houses a group of nonprofit arts, education, recreation, and community service organizations inside the former Coventry School building. The campus also includes the Coventry P.E.A.C.E. Park and Playground.
Participation in the pilot program is part of an overall plan to negotiate a land lease from Heights Libraries, which last February bought the property for $1 from the Cleveland Heights-University Heights School District.
“When the library purchased it, they said, ‘We’re going to give you two years to figure it out and we’d like you to own and operate the building,’” explains FutureHeights executive director Deanna Bremer Fisher, who is also president of the P.E.A.C.E. Campus transition board of directors.
The $21,500 IFF program is being facilitated by FutureHeights through grants from Fifth Third Bank ($17,200) and the Cleveland Foundation ($4,300).
Brady Dindia thinks the grants bode well for the project coming to fruition. “Not only is it significant that IFF chose Coventry P.E.A.C.E. Campus as the only group in Northeast Ohio to participate in their pilot program, but it’s significant that we secured a grant from [Fifth Third and] the Cleveland Foundation to help cover the costs of this feasibility study,” says Dindia, board president of tenant ARTFUL and secretary of the P.E.A.C.E. Campus board. “I believe this shows that important foundations and organizations recognize this project as being worthy of exploring further and investing in.”
A mission-driven lender, real estate consultant, and developer that helps nonprofits renovate, own, and operate their buildings, IFF kicked off the 12- to 14-week program on May 7. P.E.A.C.E. Park board members say they hope to gain insight on what they need to do to update the 46,500 square feet of usable space, as well as advice on how to attract some of the projects they'd like to see happen on the campus.
In addition to FutureHeights, Ensemble Theatre, and ARTFUL, other tenants include Lake Erie Ink, Family Connections, and Reaching Heights. Urban Oak School is also housed in the building but is not a part of the initiative.
Bremer Fisher says some building improvements have been made over the last year—mostly deferred maintenance projects, but the organization also incurred start-up costs and vandalism repairs. Some of those costs were paid for through rent income, but the P.E.A.C.E. Campus owes the library more than $7,000 for the improvements.
Other needed upgrades include installing LED lighting and upgrading the bathrooms, which currently have the original elementary school-sized facilities and only have one stall in the men’s and women’s restrooms.
Additionally, Dindia says they have approximately 3,800 square feet of available space for potential new tenants, and they are evaluating some other spaces for growth for current tenants. The group would also like to incorporate event space that could be used by both tenants and the general public.
The Art of Community: A Discussion with Burning Man Co-Founder Michael MikelWhile IFF will provide the consulting work, Coventry P.E.A.C.E. Campus still must find a way to pay for the improvements as they make plans to take over the property. On Friday, May 31, the group launched its first large-scale fundraiser, The Art of Community: A Discussion with Burning Man Co-Founder Michael Mikel.
The P.E.A.C.E. Campus raised $7,000 at the event and continues to raise money.
“Our Art of Community event was a great way to launch our fundraising efforts and was a perfect example of what our organizations can accomplish by being under the same roof,” says Dindia.
Bremer Fisher adds that the community could learn a lot from Mikel. “The things that Burning Man has learned over the years—about how to create an environment where everyone is welcome, everyone contributes, fantastic works of art are created, and then the site is left better than they found it—was inspiring,” she says. “There are so many things that apply to what we are trying to do here at Coventry P.E.A.C.E. I’m so glad that we were able to bring together a cross-section of our community to hear this message and so excited about what we can achieve in the future.”
Donations can be made online or mailed to Coventry P.E.A.C.E, Inc., 2843 Washington Blvd., Cleveland Heights, OH 44118.