by Chuck Hoven
(Plain Press, August 2011) John Marshall High School, originally slated for demolition in September of 2011, received at least a one-year stay from the Cleveland Municipal School District (CMSD) until September of 2012.
Retired structural engineer Satinder P.S. Puri is leading a campaign to save John Marshall High School from the wrecking ball. The campaign has the support of the John Marshall Alumni and is featured on their website. Puri believes that public officials are beginning to pay attention since he delivered a letter, with over 600 signatures supporting renovation of the school, to Mayor Frank Jackson.
At it’s July meeting, the Bond Accountability Commission, which monitors the school facilities plan, discussed the prospect of renovating the school. CMSD CEO Eric Gordon announced that the entire school facilities plan would be reviewed and updated.
Puri believes there is a need for review and greater public participation in the process. In November of 2010 at the first public meeting, held to discuss plans for John Marshall’s future, Puri says that the only option presented to the public was to build a new school. Puri contends that the proper way to present the plan would be to present two options– building new and renovation. The costs and benefits of both options should have been presented to the public for review and discussion. The public was never surveyed as to whether they wanted a new school or to preserve the existing structure, said Puri.
CMSD made the decision back in January of 2008 to tear down the present structure and build a new school, Puri said. Documents he received indicate that the cost of renovating the building were dated later than January 2008 when the plan to build a new school was approved by the Board of Education. Preliminary analysis of data by the Bond Accountability Commission (BAC) presented at its July meeting indicates that the cost of rehabbing John Marshall is substantially less than the cost of demolition and building new. The BAC analysis indicates that an Ohio School Facilities Commission (OSFC) report, issued in 2008, estimated the overall renovation cost at $42.51 million. The BAC report indicates that the budget for demolition and replacement of Marshall is $50.03 million. However, Bond Accountability Commission report indicated that under Ohio Schools Facilities Commission rules the locally funded portion of the project would most likely be higher if the district chooses renovation over building a new building.
Puri walks the John Marshall neighborhood with a two-wheel shopping cart with a sign urging onlookers to “Save John Marshall.” Puri carries a letter to Mayor Frank Jackson urging him to save John Marshall. Since Puri began his campaign in May of this year, over 1,000 petitioners have joined in the effort by adding their signature to the letter to Mayor Jackson. Puri is also distributing yard signs to further promote the campaign.
Puri, who as a structural engineer worked with some of the world’s top architects, calls the John Marshall building “an architectural gem.” Puri says, “The building is unique. It has features you don’t see in other buildings.” He notes elements of Greek architecture in the building. He says the carved stonework on the building’s exterior would not be easy to do today because the crafts people to do that type of quality work are rare today.
Also, he says, the existing John Marshall campus contains a swimming pool, an underground track and an auditorium. A new building would not contain these features and new schools are being built with cafeterias that double as auditoriums – which Puri notes offer inferior performance space.
Puri says that John Marshall, designed by British architect George M. Hopkinson, and built in 1932, is a designated landmark. Hopkinson designed 17 Cleveland schools, including John Hay High School and Rhodes High School – both landmark schools that have been renovated as part of the CMSDs’ school facilities program.
Puri says the renovations of John Hay and Rhodes high schools prove the district has experience rehabbing landmark buildings. He wants the John Marshall community to receive the same respect given to supporters of the other two landmark high schools.
“The right of a community to hold onto their heritage is a basic right,” says Puri. He has strong feelings that once a building is declared a landmark, it should remain a landmark. He quotes from the Landmarks Commission mission statement, “to encourage the preservation of historically and architecturally significant buildings and historic districts in the city of Cleveland.”
When Puri began the campaign in May of 2011, the demise of John Marshall was imminent with the building slated to be demolished in September of 2011. The John Marshall alumni were hosting a wake and open house at the school to say farewell to their beloved building. Puri attended the event and urged alumni to support his efforts to call for renovation rather than demolition of the building. Over seventy alumni student signed the petition to the mayor and the John Marshall Alumni Association joined in the campaign to renovate the existing school rather than build a new building. The campaign is now featured on the John Marshall alumni website at www.jmhalumni.com.
After the alumni event, the campaign began to gain momentum with alumni from all over the United States and even a soldier in Afganistan joining in the petition drive. As fate would have it, the CMSD delayed the demolition for another year due to difficulties in finding space to accommodate Marshall students during the demolition of the building and construction of the new school.
At the Kamm’s Corners Fourth of July parade, Puri joined the John Marshall Alumni float and marched through the West Park neighborhood urging an estimated crowd of 10,000 onlookers to help Save John Marshall.
Satinder P.S. Puri believes that once a decision is made to “preserve our history” all the other problems related to financing the project can be resolved.
Editor’s Note: To learn more about the campaign to Save John Marshall visit the John Marshall Alumni website at www.jmhalumni.com or call Satinder P.S. Puri at 216-251-3978.