Joint Facilities Task Force, March 2019

March 31st, 2019  |  Published in Observer Reports

Looking Forward: Thought-Leader Panel Discussion

March 26, 2019

Welcome: David Weiss, Mayor of Shaker Heights; Jeffrey Isaacs, President, Board of Education; and Brian Gleisser, President, Library Board of Trustees

Introductions: Felton Thomas Jr., Executive Director, Cleveland Public Library

Guest Speakers: Michele Pomerantz, Director of Regional Collaboration, Cuyahoga County; Evan Struble, Associate State Librarian for Library Development, State Library of Ohio; and Terry Schwarz, Director, Kent State University Cleveland Urban Design Collaborative

Moderated Q&A: Felton Thomas Jr., Executive Director, Cleveland Public Library

The website for the Forward Together initiative may be found at Forward Together. A video and slide presentation of the meeting are available via the Forward Together resources website.

Mayor Weiss opened the meeting by explaining the “Forward Together” initiative as a collaboration of the schools, library, and city to develop a “forward-looking strategy for our current and future community facilities and assets.” He cited several goals for the project: to “create a long-range vision for our community facilities, to be good stewards of our limited resources, to leverage our partnership and common goals between the three taxing authorities, and to build on our legacy of creative thinking about the best practices how to effectively and efficiently use our civic assets.” He characterized the Thought Leader discussion as the first step of many interactions between the planning group and the public. He asked the public to think beyond how our current assets are used and suggest ways they might be better utilized for the good of Shaker Heights, to listen, learn and dream.

Mr. Isaacs informed the audience there would be more community input sessions, the next sessions being Thursday, April 11, hosted at the Main Library at 9:30 a.m., and another the same day at the Stephanie Tubbs Jones Community Building at 7 p.m.

Mr. Gleisser challenged everyone to “dream big” and not only think about what might be done now, but what they felt might be needed 20 or more years into the future. He reminded everyone that he and Mayor Weiss were on City Council together 20 years ago when the discussion first began on what has come to be called the Van Aken District.

Each of the three panel members then made their presentations to the public audience, using the slide presentation and viewable on the video

Ms. Pomerantz said that public education in the United States has not really evolved in 200 years; the technology has, but the process has not. Teachers still lecture students, segregated by age and abilities, in separate rooms and/or separate buildings. She cited a forward-looking example at the Purpose Built Communities, particularly one located in Atlanta, noting another in Columbus, Ohio. She specifically did not advocate that Shaker adapt these models, but build our own model instead, using some of the practices of these groups, particularly the creative use of all public spaces for multiple functions.

Mr. Struble challenged the audience to “be aspirational” in their thinking. He further elaborated: think modular and variable in the use of shared space, consider every facility as a community meeting space for many purposes, accessible 24/7 and including outdoor as well as indoor spaces, and to think out of the box regarding the community services that may become common in the future.

Ms. Schwarz challenged the audience to agree on a set of values to be pursued, and referred to future city environments in general rather than the use of shared facilities. She spoke of three areas: smart cities, climate change and “degrowth.” She began by taking an inventory of what one has; its condition, its location and its remaining value. She then referred to autonomous devices and how these might be used to extend the value of assets by reducing congestion, better serving low income residents, creating jobs, etc. Ms. Schwarz recommended people read the Fund for Our Economic Future’s “The Two Tomorrows” report. She next reviewed some data about climate change specific to Ohio and how community facilities such as libraries, schools and recreation centers serve multiple functions for multiple constituents during extreme climate events. Finally, we should embrace the phrase, “The only sustainable growth is degrowth.” By this she meant growing less and best using what we have. She closed with a quote by Buckminster Fuller: “Our beds are empty two-thirds of the time. Our living rooms are empty seven-eighths of the time. Our office buildings are empty one-half of the time. It’s time we gave this some thought.” She singled out libraries for praise and emulation, as they serve multiple community functions.

Mr. Thomas then presented several questions from the public that had been collected during the presentation:

  • What do you see as opportunities for intersection?
    • Pomerantz: Shared facilities, from infant to senior services of all types in all facilities.
    • Struble: Break the territorial boundaries and be intentional about partnerships.
  • What is the most unique or creative idea you have seen recently?
    • Schwarz: Facilities that are multitasked and functions that change during a day.
    • Pomerantz: Areas are not considered “mine,”—a sharing mentality. Buildings that are accessible all day.
    • Struble: A trend toward the “human” library where knowledge is shared between humans directly rather than passively by books. Sharing of experiences and cultures.
  • What is the impact of physical space on your vision?
    • Pomerantz: She said to keep in mind that school buildings are built specific to grade bands with different functions, and while new buildings may be cheaper up front and easier to fund, they are “bare bones.”
    • Schwarz: Where do municipal boundaries end? These institutions are the civic glue that holds communities together. It may be uncomfortable, but sharing among neighboring municipalities should be considered.
    • Pomerantz: A variant is to share services among municipalities rather than physical buildings.

Mr. Thomas then invited members of the audience to approach the microphone with questions:

  • Property taxes are rising, where are the savings?
    • Pomerantz: The “Say Yes to Education” model, where common services offered by multiple taxing bodies are consolidated.
      • How do we get more people involved? Door-to-door?
        • Pomerantz: Local social media as well as personal communications are useful. These community meetings serve this purpose. Flyers in local businesses and community buildings.
      • What financial and/or social value have you seen placed on historic buildings? How/when should we invest in new buildings?
        • Schwarz: Don’t throw away what is useful and yet don’t preserve everything forever. Most buildings can be repurposed. Historic character is an attraction for Shaker.
        • Struble: Think about modular and interchangeable space inside a building. The State Library of Ohio is in a building previously used to repair mining equipment.
        • Powerantz: Understand what can and cannot be done with existing buildings.
      • Has leadership communicated a single problem specific to the community?
        • Pomerantz: State funding cuts have created financial stress on communities; these three administrations are taking the lead in order to get ahead of this major problem.
  • Is there an explicit or implicit overlap with economic development?
    • Thomas: Yes, a new initiative like this can be an economic driver for a community.

Mayor Weiss then thanked all of the community members present for their interest. A question to be asked here is, “What do we want Shaker to be in the future?” This has led the three taxing authorities to several conclusions: We can’t rely on what was done in the past to be successful in the future. We are maintaining an aging infrastructure multiplied by three, which is the genesis of this effort. The Joint Facilities Task Force is initially composed of members from each of these three taxing authorities, and they will recruit community members to work with them. Experts will be brought in as the process moves forward. The Joint Facilities Task Force will utilize every communications media available to attract residents to participate. The two meetings on April 11 are our next opportunity to get community input.

Frank Goforth

Speaker Biographies

Felton Thomas Jr. is the immediate past president of the Public Library Association (PLA) and was appointed director of the Cleveland Public Library (CPL) in January 2009. Prior to that, he served as director of Regional Branch Services for the Las Vegas-Clark County (Nevada) Library District and president of the Nevada Library Association. He has served on the PLA Board of Directors since 2012, and was named to the Aspen Institute’s Task Force on Learning and the Internet in 2014.

Michelle Pomerantz is the Director of Regional Collaboration for Cuyahoga County. She began her career as a classroom teacher in Cleveland before joining the American Federation of Teachers as Deputy Director of the Office of the President. Her experience at the national level gave her an understanding of federal educational reform policies and advocacy strategies. In her current position, she supports regional collaboration amongst the 59 communities and many stakeholder groups in Cuyahoga County. She is also responsible for advocacy at the state and federal level representing Cuyahoga County’s interests in securing equitable funding and policies that promote regional priorities. Through that work, she seeks to utilize collaboration to increase prosperity and educational opportunities for all residents of Cuyahoga County.

Evan T. Struble is the Associate State Librarian for Library Development at the State Library of Ohio. Previously he worked as a Library Consultant with the State Library. Additionally, he continues to work part-time for the Upper Arlington Public Library. He has also worked for the library membership organization OhioNET, Westerville Public Library, Otterbein University’s Courtright Memorial Library, and the Meigs County District Public Library.

Terry Schwarz, FAICP (a member of the College of Fellows of the American Institute of Certified Planners) is the director of Kent State University’s Cleveland Urban Design Collaborative. Her work at the CUDC includes neighborhood and campus planning, commercial and residential design guidelines, and ecological strategies for vacant land reuse. She launched the CUDC’s Shrinking Cities Institute in 2005 in an effort to understand and address the implications of population decline and large-scale urban vacancy in Northeast Ohio. As an outgrowth of the Shrinking Cities Institute, she established Pop Up City, a temporary use initiative for vacant and underutilized sites in Cleveland. In 2009 she received the Cleveland Arts Prize for Design. She teaches in the graduate design curriculum for the KSU College of Architecture and Environmental Design. She has a master’s degree in city and regional planning from Cornell University.

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