A pandemic might seem like a strange time to plan a cultural and civic organization’s next 100 years.
But leaders of Coventry PEACE Inc. say it’s more important now than ever to build the community’s future.
“It couldn’t be a harder time, but it’s also an important time,” says Brady Dindia, board secretary and president of a campus tenant called Artful. “Arts and community institutions are super vulnerable right now, and are also some of the most important assets we’re going to need to repair our mental well-being and community health when we come out of the other side of this.”
The PEACE tenants, mostly artists and activists, occupy the former Coventry School, a 1976 structure of brick, concrete, steel and glass bunkered into a hillside at 2843 Washington Blvd., Cleveland Heights. The 60,000-square-foot building shares six acres off Coventry Road with the popular PEACE playground, built in 1993 by volunteers during downpours, topped by a long slide from a structure known as the castle.
After three decades of controversy, including a lawsuit, the tenants group signed a lease last October with the Heights Libraries for 15 months, plus options for nine more decades. Last month, the group launched a fund-raising campaign called “$100,000 for 100 years.”
Despite the slogan, the $100,000 would just be a small down payment on the group’s needs for all those years. It would provide operating funds to handle routine maintenance and hire a manager, part-time at least for now. Some $1.2 million in capital expenses are expected in the next 10 years alone for a new roof, LED lights, outdoor event space and more.
In a press release, library leader Nancy Levin said, “We hope that this new agreement will allow the tenants to stabilize their finances and take care of the building, while continuing to work on their missions. And the Library can now focus on enhancing the park and green space for the community.”
Among other needs, the beloved playground, like the first children who used it, is showing signs of age. Library officials say they need to renovate or replace it.
PEACE originally stood for People Enhancing a Child’s Environment. Now it stands for People Enhancing a Community’s Environment.
The campus’s tenants are:
Lake Erie Ink, which works with young writers
Artful, a nonprofit renting out studio space
Robin VanLear, a Cleveland Arts Prize recipient known for staging the Cleveland Museum of Art’s yearly Parade the Circle and Chalk Festival
ReachingHeights, which supplements programs of the Cleveland Heights-University Heights schools
FutureHeights, which seeks to engage and empower the community
Cleveland Heights Teachers Union
the mural-making Building Bridges Arts Collaborative
social worker Sherri Skedel
Space is still available for temporary or long-term use.
The PEACE group’s monthly rent starts low and climbs fast, from $500 now to $2,000 by 2023, then three percent more per year through 2030. The group also pays for utilities, about $10,000 per month. Assuming it meets certain financial criteria, it will have options to renew decade-by-decade at negotiable rates.
Celeste Cosentino, head of Ensemble Theatre, calls the campus’s history “a long story with a lot of moving parts.” The first Coventry School opened in 1919. The second closed in 2007 after a failed lawsuit to save the elementary school.
At times, civic leaders talked about developing the property, but the public pressed for an arts center. Tenants began to come and sometimes go, uncertain of the building’s future. The library took over the campus in 2018.
Current tenants like the building’s open spaces, high ceilings and big windows. “It has plenty of daylight, which is good,” says VanLear, “because I make things for outdoors.”
The tenants like sharing advice, shows, and more. And Amy Rosenbluth, head of Lake Erie Ink, says the building’s diverse, cooperative occupants are good role models for her young writers.
Tenants also see synergy with the library and the artsy stores down Coventry, including the Grog Shop stage, Record Revolution, Mac’s Backs bookstore and Attenson’s Coventry Antiques and Books.
Cleveland Heights has other cultural hubs at Cedar Fairmount and at Cedar Lee. But campus leaders say the arts-minded inner suburb can support them all. The city bills itself as “Home to the Arts.”
After years of uncertainty, tenants are glad to be able to plan shows and exhibits well ahead. That is, assuming the pandemic ends meanwhile.
Grant Segall is a national-prizewinning reporter who spent 34 years with The Plain Dealer. He has also published freelance articles, fiction, and “John D. Rockefeller: Anointed With Oil” (Oxford University Press).