CLEVELAND — The Cleveland City Council’s Development, Planning and Sustainability Committee green lit legislation Tuesday morning that would allow the city to purchase the former South High School campus from CMSD as part of a broader redevelopment plan to turn the historic, shuttered school into a new training center for the city’s public safety forces. The proposed training center complex would allow the Department of Public Safety to centralize and expand the training of new police, fire and EMS cadets, while also providing a bridge between public safety forces and members of the community.
The city will purchase the South High School property for just over $400,000. However, under state law, that purchase price is essentially waived if the city makes investments in the property equal to or greater than the purchase price. The city’s commissioner of real estate, James DeRosa, said the city has $5 million in municipal bonds that will be used to fund the basic remodel and renovation of the school to get it into operational condition.
Opened in 1894, South High School was the second high school to be built in Cleveland. Amid dwindling enrollment and rising maintenance costs, the school closed in 2010 and has largely sat vacant. CMSD is using a portion of the property for storage.
Safety Director Karrie Howard said transforming the school into a public safety training center has a litany of benefits, namely the ability for the city to have expanded recruiting class sizes as well as the ability for those recruits to have an increased presence in the community, potentially fostering better relationships with city residents.
“It gives us an increased presence in the community. We’ll be able to train officers are the very early onset of the academy in community engagement, facilitating traffic interactions,” Howard said. “It’s a very beginning of a pipeline to the uniform safety forces from high school plans for the future for a cadet program. It also gives us the opportunity to clear out a floor of the Justice Center where we currently conduct our police training academy, which is a cost savings on that lease.”
Perhaps one of the most important aspects of the redevelopment plan is a new partnership with CMSD that will establish a vocational program at the new training center for high school juniors and seniors that are interested in a career in law enforcement, the fire service or emergency medical services.
“Our academies will be involved with the curriculum and we’ll be able to grab young folks while they have an interest in public safety,” Howard said.
The push for the training center comes amid the increasing difficulty for mid and large-sized cities to attract, recruit and retain new public safety cadets. Additionally, the training center could become a regional training site where officers at neighboring departments are trained. This could become another potential revenue stream for the city, Howard said.
“Quite frankly, I’m wondering why we haven’t done it yet,” said Councilman Blaine Griffin (Ward 6), who turned a similar training center built by the City of Columbus. “It’s basically like having a public safety campus.”
The total cost estimate of the phased redevelopment is not yet known; the city intends to solicit bids and conduct a more detailed analysis of the property.
“This really can be something great — if done right — in our neighborhood to take young people who many times look around their community to aspire to be what they see in their neighborhood,” said Councilman Anthony Hairston (Ward 10). "The presence that this facility will bring to that neighborhood, to have that police presence in that neighborhood, I think would be an amazing thing for the neighborhood as well.”
A construction timeline has not been established yet. However, the city is bound by state law to make the initial $435,000 investment by 2023. Many council members expressed eagerness to see renovations begin in earnest.