Twinsburg -- The saga surrounding the future of the "Old School" has taken a new turn, as the Architectural Review Board voted 4-1 Sept. 5 to deny a certificate of appropriateness, which the city requested, for demolition of the structure.
Law Director David Maistros said Sept. 6 he was unsure of the city's recourse in light of the ARB's decision.
"I don't know what the city's direction will be at this point, I haven't had a chance to sit down and talk to the mayor and [planning director] Larry Finch about it," Maistros said. "We'll probably make that decision in the next couple of weeks."
Members of the ARB voted against granting the certificate after hearing several Twinsburg residents and Old School Committee members voice their support for keeping the building -- considered by the city to be too cost-prohibitive, at between $4 million and $8 million, to repair and renovate.
ARB member Mike DiCillo said he wanted more information about plans for future development on the site and alternatives to demolishing the structure before granting the certificate of appropriateness.
"That building does have character in my opinion," DiCillo said. "We're given limited time … if I don't have all the information, I'm not prepared to make a decision."
Finch said the city is trying to move forward with a concept first presented in the city's 2007 comprehensive plan, which placed a mixed-use commercial and residential area on the land the Old School currently occupies.
"We don't have any specific proposal from a developer, but we do have concept plans that the comprehensive plan committee's been working with and others have worked with," Finch said. "In that comprehensive plan, we showed redevelopment of that southeast quadrant. The concept plan for the area visualized a mix of residence and commercial buildings and it redeveloped the site in its entirety without the Old School."
Mayor Katherine Procop, who has said it is "difficult to justify" the fiscal liability of keeping the Old School, declined comment for this story.
ARB member Jennifer Frazier said other renovated facilities, the Mentor High School and Regina High School buildings were similar in that they were old buildings that had been revitalized.
"I'm really torn on this, I have been for a long time," added ARB member Jennifer Frazier. "I believe there is potential to save [another facility], but it would be expensive. I have not been inside the [Mentor facility] … but it does feel familiar when I'm driving down the street."
It was stated for the record that all ARB members have toured the former Old School.
In order to move forward with demolition, the city required the certificate of appropriateness, which would have allowed Council to address the possibility of tearing down the structure. No timeline had yet been set by the city to raze the building.
ARB Council representative Bob McDermott said that although he does not support renovation of the Old School, he commended ARB members for hearing the public on the issue.
"The Architectural Review Board did their due diligence," McDermott said. "They studied, they had a lot of information and they drew their conclusion based on the things that they were told and the things that they had read, as well listening to the people. I am absolutely in favor of tearing down the Old School. Have been and always will be. But by the same token, I want to see it done correctly."
Members of the ARB also voted 3-2 Sept. 5 to grant local historical significance status -- separate from the National Historic Registry -- to the Old School.
Planning and Community Development Director Larry Finch said he disagrees with the ruling, as he claims ARB members did not cite specific criteria for the designation. Official city criteria for this designation includes a minimum age requirement of 50 years -- which the Old School meets -- representation of the work of a notable architect, embodiment of distinguishing characteristics associated with the history of the city and identification with important people or events from the city's history, Finch said.
"It's kind of a first step but it's not a protection in and of itself," Finch said of the designation. "What they determined was that the building represents ... a building of historic significance. I'm a little confused because I didn't hear anybody tell me why it represented a building of local historic significance. There are the three criteria that it has to address and nobody responded specifically regarding those criteria. I'm inclined to request an appeal of that decision from Council."
The 30,000-square-foot structure built in 1921 has served as the city's first centralized school, a continuing education facility for Chrysler Stamping Plant workers, a Kent State University regional campus and most recently as a meeting and rehearsal space for the Twinsburg Community Theatre.
Old School Committee members have suggested the city spend the money to renovate the facility for a possible fine arts center, loft apartments or museum space.
Sheryl Kvitko, a member of the Old School Committee, said the ARB's decision to deny the demolition certificate bought her group some time to formulate a plan for renovation of the Old School and promote her committee's message.
"They have the right to an appeal and we 100 percent expect that," Kvitko said. "We're just relieved we have a little extra time to answer questions and to come up with a more concrete plan. I just want to see a little piece of history remain."
Facebook: Conner Howard, Record Publishing Reporter