Charter School Purchases Iconic Hugo Boss Building, Plans Expansion -- By Erin O'Brien, March 09, 2015
Last week, the Menlo Park Academy (MPA) announced that it had acquired the Joseph & Feiss Cloth Craft Building on West 53rd Street just south of Interstate 90. The nearly seven-acre property houses two structures that were formerly a warehouse and administrative building, approximately 80,000- and 25,000-square-feet respectively. Hugo Boss acquired Joseph & Feiss in 1989, along with the notable site, which is listed on the National Registry of Historic Places. In recent years the warehouse building has attracted numerous graffiti artists, including one whose advice to "READ MORE BOOKS" may soon be taken by MPA students.
Preliminary plans include using the larger building with the iconic water tower for the school and mothballing the smaller building in a way that respects the historical integrity.
"By doing some innovative things for an innovative (student) population, I think we're taking the history of that property to the next step," says Fraser Hamilton, who sits on the school's board and is spearheading the facility expansion committee. Two of his children attend MPA and one is a graduate. "It's not unlike what Joseph and Feiss did when they developed the property originally."
Currently located at 14440 Triskett Road, MPA focuses on gifted children in kindergarten through eighth grade. The charter school has two classes for grades K through seven and one for eighth. Founded in 2007, the MPA has 363 students. "We're maxed out," says Hamilton of the leased space, adding that the school hopes to expand to three classes in each grade and a student population of more than 600. While that growth is expected to span three to five years, the organization aims to begin the 2016-2017 school year in the new facility. The design team includes Herman Gibans Fodor, Inc. and Robert Maschke Architects. The site's significant green spaces will be transformed into play areas and learning gardens.
"We take a holistic model to the education of our children," says Hamilton. "It's more than just sitting in the classroom and learning from books. We encourage a lot of experiential learning." During the due diligence process, the MPA team enlisted the services of the Mannik Smith Group to work with state and federal Environmental Protection Agencies and evaluate the site's brownfield status and any required remediation.
"The bulk of the environmental work that has to happen out there is asbestos abatement," says Hamilton. "There's a small area of contaminated soil that we'll cover with asphalt and concrete to make sure no one gets to it." The group is also assessing whether or not there is an indoor air issue. A $250,000 grant from the federal Environmental Protection Agency (obtained via Cuyahoga County) will fund the remediation work.
Due diligence also included tabulating crime data for the new location as well as the existing Triskett location. Both areas had low overall numbers for 2011 through 2014 and crimes against property in the West 53rd Street neighborhood were 45 percent lower than for the Triskett location.
Funding for the renovation will include traditional bank financing and any awarded federal and state historic tax credits and market tax credits. The organization also hopes to garner support from the community via donations and philanthropic participation.
"We'll be kicking off a capital campaign shortly," says Hamilton. "Those details are still being hammered out."
Of the $275,000 purchase price for the building, he adds, "Let's just say it was a bargain on the Cleveland real estate landscape."
The expansion includes the lofty goal of seeking out a diverse range of gifted children, particularly those who are under-served and low-income in order to "ensure that every child who is gifted gets the opportunity they deserve." says Hamilton, adding that a unique educational facility can also act as welcome community anchor.
"We will be a catalyst for that neighborhood."