August 21, 2014

Elyria
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Schools looking to trim historical district

ELYRIA — The school district wants to make certain the new high school will be open by 2012, and its officials say they need to adjust the borders of a historical district encompassing the construction area to do it.

The district has proposed removing portions of Sixth Street and West Avenue from the historical district, which would eliminate the extra step of having to present plans first to the Elyria Landmarks Commission before going before the City Council.

But Bill Bird, vice president of the landmarks commission, said it would set a poor precedent to exclude all of the high school site from the Elyria Downtown/West Avenue Historic District.

Bird said he thinks the commission should help determine the fate of three structures in the area — historic homes at 507 and 511 West Avenue along with the historic sandstone Washington building on Middle Avenue.

Excluding those three building theoretically would allow other groups to make the argument that other landmarks should be razed, too, he said.

Bird likened the change to allowing the county to tear down the old county courthouse near Ely Square or the historic train station or allowing the Elyria Women’s Club to tear down the Monteith building, which was a stop on the underground railroad and the home of John Monteith, the first headmaster of Elyria High, the first high school built west of the Allegheny Mountains in 1830, Bird said.

“They could say, you waived it for the schools,” Bird said.

Bird told Council the two homes likely would be razed for parking and he hoped the schools could be “flexible” because they are on the outskirts of the site.

The Council set a 7 p.m. Sept. 4 hearing to consider the request.

After Monday’s meeting, Bird said the majority of the landmarks commission voted to oppose removing any portion of the historic district from the commission’s oversight. Bird said some members were upset the commission had not even been consulted about the proposal.

Bird said landmarks commission member Terry Wacker abstained from voting because he owns the home at 511 West Ave. — one of those that could be torn down. Bird said he doesn’t have a problem excluding most of the properties in question; he just doesn’t want the commission’s authority on the three particular properties to be lost.

Richard Nielson, director of business services for the schools, told Council that the schools were committed to “enhance rather than hinder” the neighborhood and would “make sure this fits in well.”

Bird, also the director of the Lorain County Historical Society, said he was speaking as an individual and the society has not taken a stand.

Contact Cindy Leise at 329-7245 or cleise@chroniclet.com.