An extensive demolition project is currently underway in Cleveland to do more than just rid the city of blighted properties—it’s also creating safer routes for kids to walk to school.
Cleveland’s Safe Routes to School program is aiming to demolish vacant buildings within 1,000 feet of schools for kids in grades K-8 to minimize dangers of walking to school. Safe Routes to School is a national program that promotes walking and bicycling to school through infrastructure improvements, enforcement, tools, safety education, and incentives to encourage walking and bicycling to school.
The city has demolished more than 10,000 vacant properties since 2006, accounting for nearly $80 million in expenses.
Most of those were residential properties, says Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson. However, in the past two years, the city has received ample funding for the Safe Routes to School program to begin focusing on larger buildings.
Jackson says between this year and next, demolition of larger buildings is slated to cost $27 million. So far, 943 commercial structures have been demolished with the funding, and 126 remain.
More than 50 contractors are eligible to perform demolition work for the city’s program, which includes abatement and survey work.
Jackson and several city officials recently held a news conference giving updates on the program moments before starting to tear down a blighted structure called the Victoreen Building, which contractors began demolishing mechanically on May 30. That demolition alone cost nearly $900,000.
"This building represents our past, but it also represents our future," said Ward 6 Councilman Blaine Griffin during the news conference. "In this neighborhood, in order for us to move forward, we need to get rid of blighted structures like this."
Ayonna Blue Donald, the director of Cleveland’s Department of Building and Housing, said major challenges have been receiving the correct legal permits and finding the buildings’ proper owners. Securing financing was also been a challenge, and the city needed to make sure it had the adequate funding before it began the project.
The city has been engaged in the Safe Routes program since 2006, and it expanded in 2014, when the City Planning Commission received a Safe Routes Grant to initiate a districtwide program. Demolition related to the project began in 2017.
The Cleveland Safe Routes to School plan is now funded by the city, the Ohio Department of Transportation and the Northeast Ohio Areawide Coordinating Agency, with match funding secured by Bike Cleveland from the Saint Luke’s Foundation and the Cleveland Foundation.
Because the larger structures are commercial properties, they’ve also needed extensive environmental remediation work, which Donald said was another main challenge of the project.
The program is a collaborative partnership between the Cleveland Metropolitan School District and the Ohio Department of Transportation, the city of Cleveland, the Northeast Ohio Areawide Coordinating Agency and Bike Cleveland.