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    County Juvenile Justice Building May Become Public Boarding School

    A Depression-era complex where judges meted out punishments for youth offenders could become a place for a different sort of learning and reflection.
    Cuyahoga County's old juvenile justice center might see new life as Ohio's first public boarding school, under a plan hatched by the Campus District Inc. nonprofit group. A company tied to the neighborhood nonprofit is in line to lease and eventually buy the buildings, at East 22nd Street between Cedar and Central avenues.
    The county moved its juvenile court and detention facilities to Quincy Avenue and East 93rd Street three years ago. Interest in the old justice complex, part of the county's broader real estate consolidation push, has been tepid at best. The neighboring Sisters of Charity Health System made a few offers for the property - at prices ranging from $1 to $10.
    But the county sat on the buildings, waiting for the right buyer and a more specific redevelopment plan.
    "At a lower price, you have to feel that the end use is extremely positive," said Ryan Jeffers of the CBRE Group Inc. real estate brokerage, which has been advising the county on real estate matters. "That's how you justify a lower-priced sale."
    Now the Campus District hopes to rent the complex while pursuing a slot for the 1931 courts building on the National Register of Historic Places. That listing will make the property, already a Cleveland city landmark, eligible for preservation tax credits, which are critical financing tools for what could be a $47 million redevelopment.
    Under the Campus District's plans, the complex's 1950s detention center would be demolished and replaced with a new gym. The historic courts building, with four wings that wrap around a central courtyard, would become classrooms and, potentially, dorm rooms for students.
    Bobbi Reichtell, executive director of the Campus District, confirmed that the nonprofit is talking about a residential school geared toward students who are struggling in more traditional settings. But she wouldn't go into details about the deal structure or the potential operator. The group has talked to leaders at the Cleveland Metropolitan School District about weaving a boarding school into the public education system.
    "They're interested in a residential model," Reichtell said of CMSD, "and we really hope that the district would seriously consider this building. But nothing is decided - emphasis on nothing is decided."
    A Cleveland schools spokeswoman didn't respond to a request for comment.
    Reichtell said the SEED School of Maryland, a public boarding school in Baltimore, offers one possible model. That school, which draws sixth through 12th graders from across the state, will see its first class of high school students graduate next year.
    The nonprofit SEED Foundation, which operates the Baltimore school and a similar school in Washington, D.C., has been looking at Ohio for several years. Plans for a Cincinnati boarding school fell apart last year, after a key funder backed off.
    Legislation introduced last week at a Cuyahoga County Council meeting laid out details of the potential juvenile complex sale. If council signs off, a for-profit company controlled by the Campus District will lease the property Jan. 1 for $1 a year. After the second year, the annual rent would escalate to $1 million.
    The lease will come with a purchase option, starting at $350,000 and climbing by $10,000 each month starting in the second year. The obvious goal for the Campus District, which has been working with Northeast Ohio developer Tom Kuluris, is to buy the complex within two years, paying a maximum of $470,000 plus $2 in rent.
    "This was the county's way of supporting the project, without putting any money into it," Bonnie Teeuwen, the county's public works director, said of the lease-purchase arrangement.
    Jeffers said the deal structure will give the Campus District the time and site control it needs to seek tax credits and other financing. The climbing price puts pressure on the buyer and limits the risk that the complex will languish as property owners including the Sisters of Charity, the Cleveland Metropolitan Housing Authority and Cuyahoga Community College make investments nearby.
    "The county needed to have some assurance that the property wouldn't necessarily be sitting there 10 years later, with somebody paying $1 a year," he said. "So we created a couple of incentives for the purchaser to either say I can't do this project, I can't go ahead, or to buy it now. ... Technically, if they chose to continue renting the property on into the future, it would be a seven-figure, eight-figure price tag."
    County council's public works committee is scheduled to discuss the potential sale Wednesday morning.