by Chuck Hoven
(Plain Press, April 2015) At a March 18th Community meeting held in Bethany Presbyterian Church, residents voted 22 to 3 to have historic Watterson Lake School Building on W. 74th and Detroit Avenue removed from its landmark status and demolished. The school, built in 1906 and designed by architect Frank S. Barnum, has been vacant since the 1980s. Students currently attend a newer Watterson Lake built in 1969 next to the old building. After the vote, Ward 15 Councilman Matt Zone said he would immediately work to get on the agenda of the Landmarks Commission to pursue removing landmark status of the building so it can be demolished this summer.
In the discussion prior to the vote, Councilman Zone noted the meetings held over the years to attempt to save the building. He recalled attending a meeting in 1995 where restoration of the building was an issue. He said Detroit Shoreway Community Development Organization presented the school district an analysis of the building in 1988.
Resident Sharon Dossa, who attended school in the old Watterson Lake building, recalled the schools’ former principal working to save the historic structure. Dossa said something of the school could have been saved years ago when the school was “not as visibly terrible as it is now.” She said what happened to Watterson Lake was “demolition by neglect by the Cleveland Metropolitan School District.”
Residents attending the meeting were given a list of the recent meetings of the West Clinton Block Club where residents sought answers from the school district about the condition of the building. In response to these efforts the school district produced a number of reports.
An October 2013 Sebesta & Associates airborne asbestos report “showed significant potential for exposure to airborne asbestos fibers and fungal spores in the 1906 building.”
An April 2014 Masonry Prism Testing for Compressive Strength recommended demolition rather than trying to save the 1906 walls.
Councilman Zone said he also asked local developer Marous Brothers Construction for an opinion, and in February of this year they told him the building was unlikely to attract an adaptive use developer. He said other builders and an architect with expertise in historic preservation have given him similar feedback.
Councilman Zone said the Cleveland Metropolitan School District has agreed to cover the cost of demolishing the structure. Zone said the entire cost of the demolition would have to come from district funds – the state will not match the cost because there are currently no students in the building. A November 2013 Barber & Hoffman cost estimate determined the cost of demolition to be between $400,000 and $500,000. An additional $250,000-$300,000 would be added to the cost to brace and preserve the façade. It was also noted some of the terra cotta work in the design of the façade fell off in 2013.
With Watterson Lake’s 1969 building eventually slated to be closed by the school district after a new Waverly-Watterson Lake building is constructed on the current site of Waverly, Councilman Zone said a decision had to be made whether the old building should be torn down this summer during school recess or to wait and tear both buildings down at the same time.
Councilman Zone said the school district had agreed to see if it could separate the parcels and tear down just the old building and prepare the site for potential development. He said that demolishing the school now would allow the option of keeping some of the artifacts for incorporation into the new school planned for the Waverly site on W. 57th and allow for a small development site on Detroit Avenue. Councilman Zone assured residents that every precaution would be taken in demolishing the building to assure air quality safety in the nearby neighborhood.