John Carroll University officials made a request to the University Heights City Council last December to demolish five University-owned homes on Milford Road and one on Warrensville Center Road to make room for a University athletic field. The council met again last week to discuss the issue, but has yet to approve the project.
The construction of the playfield is intended to attract potential students to JCU, the only school in the Ohio Athletic Conference in which several varsity sports have to share field time and space, said Dora Pruce, director of government and community relations.
Before students living in the University-owned homes signed their lease this year, the Office of Residence Life told them that there was the possibility that their home would be part of the Master Plan for expansion.
There was a clause in the lease stating the University had the right to give the tenants 60 days notice before they would terminate their lease to effect the master plan.
In December, the University told the tenants they would need to move out by June 30, 2009, but gave them other housing options.
Junior Maura McCool currently lives in one of the Milford homes and finds the move frustrating, even though she accepted it in her housing lease.
“Although I definitely support JCU’s expansion, I feel that it would be a shame to have these houses just sit here [waiting] until the city gives JCU permission to change them into practice fields,” said McCool.
JCU officials submitted a list of requests to City Council regarding the demolition of the Milford homes and expect a response from the council by March 31.
However, this is only the first step in beginning the construction process.
According to Pruce, the University must have City Council’s approval for the demolition of the homes and the building of the fields. After this is approved, the construction depends on the city’s guidelines and the University having the resources to begin construction. There is not yet a finite timeline for this project.
University Heights residents are hesitant, however, to approve the project because most of them see these five Milford homes as contributors to property and income tax for the city.
Pruce said residents are concerned that taking away these neighborhood homes will also take away revenue potential, which will spiral into less homes in the city and therefore less residents, ultimately leading to less tax dollars recycled back into the community.
In response to this concern, Pruce cites the bigger economic loss to the University, and therefore the neighborhood, if it loses students to other schools with better athletic facilities.
“If we don’t take action and create a playfield and respond to the demands of our student recruits, the University’s economic growth potential is severally hindered.”
In her December proposal to City Council, Pruce noted that over the past five years, the University has let go of 70 full-time employees as a direct result of lower enrollment.
The University estimated these 70 employees roughly equals $4.2 million in annual payroll, meaning $105,000 in University Heights taxes each year, according to Pruce.
JCU student enrollment and tax revenue for the city are therefore inextricably linked.
If the University loses students, it will also have to let go of employees whose annual salaries contribute to a large amount of the city’s income and property tax.
Pruce also said, while enrollment was up this past academic year, it is difficult to predict this increase as a trend in the future, especially in light of a dwindling economy.
The bigger picture here is that we cannot afford to stand by and wait to see what our enrollment projections are from year to year,” said Pruce.
“We know that students are choosing colleges with athletic amenities, and we know that John Carroll University’s offerings are inadequate and uncompetitive.”
The University told City Council in its December proposal that the field would be stocked with amenities, such as turf, seating and a fence, so as to maintain the high value of the neighborhood.