Why the Fairfax community is fighting to keep Bolton Elementary near the neighborhood

When 76-year-old Fairfax resident Walter Stanley attends a community meeting with a packed room, he sits close to the presenters so he doesn’t miss a thing. And at a recent Cleveland Municipal School District (CMSD) meeting this spring, there was plenty to take in as residents and stakeholders provided input on the Cleveland Board of Education’s budgetary decisions concerning the fate of Fairfax’s Bolton Elementary School.

“CMSD was going to build a new Bolton Elementary School in the Fairfax neighborhood as part of its School Facilities Program,” explains Denise VanLeer, Executive Director of Fairfax Renaissance Development Corporation (FRDC). “But Ohio’s Department of Education has changed the formula for how school districts are funded, resulting in a gap for schools that CMSD had planned to build new.”

Since April, CMSD has hosted seven community meetings for its Citywide Analysis for Long-Term Planning in order to collect recommendations for the Cleveland Board of Education. According to their website, CMSD currently has more than 100 schools, with the majority showing below-capacity enrollments. Stretching already limited resources, CMSD is preparing for a round of school closures, consolidations, and relocations.

Bolton Elementary may fall into that category, as CMSD is considering closing Bolton and relocating its students to Margaret Ireland School in the Hough neighborhood. But Margaret Ireland School is over two miles away and not in a residential area.

“Schools are the lifeblood of our community. We want our kids to grow up together in the neighborhood, not feel like strangers from different schools,” says Stanley, who has attended several of CMSD’s East Regional Meetings.

Stanley isn’t alone in that sentiment, and as a resident of Fairfax for over 40 years, he knows his community well: “We’re feisty.” So are all Fairfax’s community partners. FRDC, Ward 6 Councilman Blaine Griffin, residents, partners, and stakeholders have attended meetings, written letters, and sent emails voicing opposition of relocating Bolton to Hough’s Margaret Ireland School.

In a letter to Eric Gordon, CEO of CMSD, VanLeer contended that “relocation promotes disinvestment in a neighborhood where millions of dollars of investment is already completed, planned or underway.” She is referring to recent capital improvements to Karamu House, Griot Village, and construction of mixed-use housing in Innovation Square.

As part of its master plan for Fairfax, FRDC had already developed the Arts, Culture, and Education District or “ACE District,” anchored by Karamu House. Originally, it made sense to build the new Bolton School next to Karamu and provide arts education within the K-8 school. FRDC began acquiring land for the new school because “without Bolton, there is no public school in Fairfax,” says VanLeer. “Relocating Bolton leaves no options for people moving here to work, such as the 20,000 Cleveland Clinic employees on its main campus in Fairfax.”

FRDC, stakeholders, and Fairfax residents do support one option—consolidating Bolton with Dike School for the Arts, with its strength in arts education and closer proximity to Bolton’s current facility.

In late June, CMSD News Bureau announced the Board of Education will wait until after summer break to make decisions about the future of K-8 academic programs and facilities.

That's welcome news to Stanley and others hoping Bolton will find a home in Fairfax.

"Young people who move to an area look at the schools first. Once their children are in a school, parents stay and contribute even more to the community,” says Stanley. “We want to attract families with a safe, quality elementary school in our neighborhood.”

Read more articles by Cindy Hill.

Cindy Hill is a freelance writer based in Shaker Heights. She enjoys telling the stories of impact makers—the organizations and businesses that keep Cleveland at the forefront of innovation. For more than 22 years, she has produced award-winning curriculum, proposals, books, and articles, driven by her insatiable curiosity to find out “what’s next.”