Potential revamp of 1927 section of Hudson Middle School draws mixed response

Residential development proposal being studied; historical preservation group examining community center idea

Phil Keren
Akron Beacon Journal
The Hudson City School District is reviewing a proposal to repurpose the portion of the old Hudson Middle School that was built in 1927. Liberty Development Co. presented a revised version of their plan at community webinars on  March 10 and 11. The plan was scaled back from about 35-36 residential units to 14 units. The front lawn and old oak trees will be preserved, and a proposal to build two new homes along Oviatt Street has been dropped from the plan. In Liberty's plan, about one-third of the 1927 building will be preserved and the remaining two-thirds will be demolished.

HUDSON — School district officials and a developer have, so far, received a mixed response on a proposal to repurpose the 1927 section of the old middle school on Oviatt Street. Meanwhile, a local historical group wants to study the feasibility of converting the 94-year-old building into a community center.

The board of education in November approved a letter of intent with Westlake-based Liberty Development Co. to explore the feasibility of the company's proposal for a residential development at the site of the old middle school. That letter spells out a process where the district could sell the building to Liberty for its project, according to district Superintendent Phil Herman.

More:Condominiums, carriage houses proposed at old Hudson Middle School site

Liberty has proposed constructing approximately 20 condominiums in the part of the former middle school that was built in 1927. Liberty also wants to build eight carriage houses east of the building site, put in two single-family homes along Oviatt Street and renovate a third structure on Oviatt.

Hudson City Schools spokesperson Sheryl Sheatzley said Liberty is conducting its building analysis and feasibility study this month and next month.

Dru Siley, project coordinator and planner for Liberty Development Co., said his team is looking to decide by late March whether they will move forward with the project.

Herman said the 1927 building study committee was formed in 2018 to seek a viable option for the use of the building. The committee was put together in response to feedback from many community members who wanted the 1927 section of the middle school preserved.

The district is already planning to tear down the parts of the building constructed between 1960 and 1970 this summer. Herman said the district's goal is to "turn that building over to [a partner or developer] at the time that those back portions are being demolished."

If there is not a partner or developer that wants to repurpose the 1927 section, Herman said, "we have some difficult decisions to make in the coming months about demolition."

"In the long run, if we're not able to determine a feasible option for that building, then it would ultimately be demolished," said Herman.

A feasibility study performed by Westlake Reed Leskosky estimated that the cost to revamp the building would range from $11.7 million (community center/board of education) to $12.3 million (for a residential project).

More: Hudson 1927 Building Study Committee presentation

A group of 200 residents have submitted a petition to both school district and city officials asking that the plan be halted until residents have more time to review the concept and ask questions.

In addition, the Hudson Heritage Association (HHA) took out a full page ad in the Feb. 14 edition of the Hub-Times to voice their opposition to the project. HHA also wants to study the feasibility of transforming the building into a community center.

Liberty presents concept

District leaders recently hosted meetings to review the history of the project, have Liberty present its proposal and answer questions. 

Siley said at a meeting his firm is presenting "an idea" and emphasized, "we're certainly not fully there in terms of fully developing [the idea]."

"We're asking for your input," said Siley.  He added he felt "this beautiful building can be saved and given a new life."

Siley noted his firm's goal is to preserve all four walls on the exterior of the building. He said there are areas where bricks were put in over windows and added they would like to restore windows if the opportunity presents itself.

While the 600-seat auditorium inside the building would not be repurposed as an auditorium in Liberty's plan, Siley noted, "a lot of those character features you see in there… these beautiful corridors, those would all be incorporated into the design and they would be retained."

Siley added he felt the concept his company is developing will fit with the residential neighborhood, fulfills a need for emptynester housing, and is feasible and sustainable.

The 20 condominium units would each be about 1,200 square feet, with two bedrooms and two or two and a half bathrooms. Siley noted his firm is still figuring out how parking would be set up for the condos, but would design a plan that allows for two cars per unit.

Each of the eight carriage homes would be approximately 2,300 square feet, with three bedrooms (including a first-floor master bedroom), two and a half bathrooms, a two-car garage and a two-car driveway. 

Siley said the average price per unit for the 30 or so units is about $500,000. To allow for the number of units that Liberty wants to build, the firm would ask for the land to be rezoned to allow for the construction of 12 units per acre. The current zoning designation permits five units per acre. The planning commission and city council would have to approve the rezoning.

Siley said the 600-seat auditorium inside the building would not be repurposed as an auditorium in Liberty's plan, and added he felt such facility and condominiums in the same building is "not a good commingling." 

Though nothing has been decided, Siley said the auditorium area could be a courtyard or could be used for parking, among other things.

The Hudson City School District is reviewing a proposed repurposing of the 1927 section of the former Hudson Middle School building on North Oviatt Street. Liberty Development Co. has proposed converting the building into about 20 condominiums. [Phil Masturzo/ Beacon Journal]

Residents share feedback

Residents who shared feedback during a community webinar on Feb. 1 offered varying opinions. Some supported the idea, saying it fit the neighborhood and offered housing to empytnesters. Others raised concerns about the two homes on Oviatt blocking the view of the historic building, the auditorium being removed, and believed the project would not fit in with neighborhood. The concern about the view of the structure being blocked by the two new homes was the most common objection. Another resident suggested merging a residential space with a community art space.

A group of about 200 residents in late January submitted a petition to both the school district and city council in which they called on officials to "halt work" on the proposed project with Liberty until residents — particularly ones in the historical core — have the chance to "fully review the proposed development, ask questions and provide input into the future use of this significant, historic property."

The petitioners said they were concerned that Liberty's project would:

1. increase density in a neighborhood that is "already densely populated";

2. increase traffic on "narrow, already congested streets";

3. "disfigure" the Oviatt Street streetscape; and

4. eliminate "significant open space" on the school grounds in the historic core.

Herman said officials are currently listening to feedback from community members, neighbors and groups.

"The district held multiple meetings to listen and to determine the best way to move forward," said Herman. "There are additional steps that are continuing to take place. Liberty will conduct their own study to determine the viability of their proposal as presented and/or with modifications."

Historical group opposes plan

HHA has also come out against the plan. In a full-page ad in the Feb. 14 edition of the Hub-Times, HHA officials said Liberty's plan "is neither right for this neighborhood nor appropriate for the long-term needs of the city."

"We hope the HCSD will consider alternative uses for this building and for this site," the HHA ad stated.

According to the ad, HHA wants a project to occur that would:

1. maintain the historic streetscape of Oviatt, including the front lawn and the oak trees;

2. preserve the historic exterior of the school building; and

3. pursue a preservation easement to permanently protect the building and site.

Herman said a committee was formed in August 2018 to seek proposals to repurpose the 1927 section of the middle school building and noted HHA was "well represented" on this committee. It was determined that a proposal to repurpose would need to; preserve the exterior of the building; be compatible with the district and the surrounding neighborhood; and lay out how the use would be "funded and managed independently" of the district, Herman said.

In response to the district's Request For Proposal that was sent out in January 2020, HHA submitted a concept in March 2020 showing how the building could be used as a cultural arts center.

However, Herman noted, HHA's concept "did not include details and a commitment to funding and management of the project." He added that Liberty, which approached the district in August 2020, is the only organization that has offered a plan to "fully fund and manage the repurposing of the 1927 building."

Christopher Bach, president of HHA, said his organization sought and received proposals from four different consultants in October 2020 to perform feasibility studies for what he is now calling a community center concept. Bach said HHA put its feasibility study "on hold" so it could review Liberty's proposal.

He said HHA wants to preserve both the building and the streetscape, which includes the lawn and century-old oak trees on the property. After seeing Liberty's plan that calls for the construction of two homes on Oviatt and the removal of the old oak trees, Bach said HHA decided it would not support Liberty's project.

In addition to not supporting Liberty's project, HHA has decided it would pursue "a more community-driven project," said Bach.

Bach said either HHA or HHA and other community groups would next hire a consultant to conduct a feasibility study for a community center concept. He said HHA would also engage with community members through meetings and surveys to find out how they feel about the community center concept. Bach noted he would like to finish the study by the end of May and present it to the board of education.

"Ultimately, it would be, I think, in everybody's best interests if we had not only a Liberty plan … but also a community center plan and let the community and let the school district and the board of education be presented with those two concepts and take it from there," said Bach.

Reporter Phil Keren can be reached at pkeren@thebeaconjournal.com, or on Twitter at @keren_phil.