The Cleveland Heights-University Heights School Board should sell the former Millikin School building to Mosdos Ohr Hatorah, which has offered $550,000 for the property, according to Cleveland Heights City Councilman Jason Stein.
"Mosdos is the right option," Stein said Feb. 13. "I encourage the school board to have serious discussions with Mosdos. It should be top priority."
About a half-dozen people told the CH-UH school board at its Feb. 7 meeting that they supported the efforts of Mosdos, an Orthodox day school, to purchase Millikin, which has been vacant since 2006.
"The neighbors have been very patient," said Stein, who lives in the Millikin School neighborhood. A school is the "best choice" to re-establish the property as a community asset, he said.
Millikin School has suffered decay, Stein said. "It's really a shell of a building, not what it was in 2006. It's been vandalized, has multiple broken windows. There's been breaking and entering, and it has become a hangout. There is major damage inside."
The gym floor is patched with wood and needs to be replaced, he said.
"It would be expensive to repair," Stein said. "Mosdos is willing to do it. It would invest over $1 million in the school and would re-establish the playground, which would have community hours."
While school officials have referred to the building's 2006 appraisal of $2.4 million as a reason to reject Mosdos's lower bid, Stein said the mortgage crisis has changed values. "It's a depressed market and will be for the next decade."
Mosdos has other options to find more space, Cleveland Heights Mayor Edward Kelley said Feb. 8. "I'm willing to roll up my sleeves and work with them to find a number of alternatives," Kelley said. "I think there are some wonderful opportunities in Cleveland Heights."
Mosdos has placed three bids in five years on the building, according to executive director Rabbi Baruch Chaim Manies. Of the most recent bid for $550,000, he said, "Basically we're the highest bid."
CH-UH Superintendent Douglas Heuer said last week the school board rejected Mosdos's first bid in 2007. Its other bids have been unsolicited, Heuer said, as the property is not for sale. The school board recently renewed conversation on leasing the property, he said.
Heuer retracted his initial comment that the city offered Mosdos a $250,000 grant to renovate its current property.
Kelley confirmed the city has not offered Mosdos a grant and questioned whether the city could do that. He said the Millikin building is in need of repair, "but it would be a wonderful site for something to happen there. It really needs someone to give it life and character."
"Many other communities like Oak Park, Mich., have found a way to take unneeded school properties and give or sell them to Jewish schools," said Akiva Feinstein, a Mosdos parent who writes for the Orthodox community's Local Jewish News website. "It's a beautiful example of a partnership between the school system and Jewish community.
"Mosdos is not asking for a gift," added Feinstein, who was among those who addressed the school board.
Jessica Cohen, who lives a few blocks from Millikin, also voiced support for the sale to Mosdos. Cohen is director of grants and foundation relations for Breakthrough Charter Schools, which she said purchased four school buildings from the Cleveland Metropolitan School District.
"We purchased the four buildings for $1.5 million but are spending another $2.5 million total in renovations and improvements to enhance the value and quality of the school buildings and property," Cohen said. "It has done wonders for the community to continue to have these buildings for educational purposes."
The school board also heard comments opposing Millikin's use as a call center, another possibility for the building, as reported by Local Jewish News.
Mosdos's boys' division for preschool through eighth grade is currently housed in the former Warrensville Center Synagogue. Its girls' division for preschool-grade 12 is on South Taylor Road in Cleveland Heights.
The Millikin School offers more space than the boys' facility and an outdoor play area, and it is closer to many Mosdos families' residences, Manies said.