Walbrook reunites after 3-year 'blur' Closing was forced by asbestos removal

August 23, 1991|By M. Dion Thompson

They turned a standard ribbon-cutting ceremony at Walbrook Senior High School yesterday into a celebration that was part homecoming and part family reunion.

A small marching band strutted up and down the sidewalk. Neighbors, politicians, and former and current students greeted each other with smiles of achievement. Finally, after more than three years and$14.2 million, the 20-year-old school at 2000 Edgewood Street in West Baltimore was open again.

Samuel R. Billups Jr., the school's principal, recalled the day in May 1988 when he was called at home and told his school would be closed for asbestos removal.

"From that time on, it was a blur, a blur that we wanted to forget," he said.

The school's students were sent to Southwestern High School, which already had its own complement of students. Perhaps 2,500 students jammed a school built for 2,100. There were staggered schedules and five lunch periods, the first of which began at 10 a.m.

Michael Boyer, who will be a junior this year, remembers having to share lockers. And there was the long bus ride on the No. 15 or the No. 19. Students who missed one of those buses faced the wearying prospect of going from West Baltimore to downtown to make a connection to Southwestern. All that is over now.

"It's great to be home, in the home of the Warriors," said Aaron Gwynn, another junior.

The speakers who addressed the crowd all said yesterday's reopening might never have occurred without the cooperation of local, state and federal officials, along with continual prodding by neighborhood residents.

School and community officials lobbied the school board and local, and state and federal officials for money for the removal project, which was required because asbestos causes fatal lung diseases.

"Yelling, screaming, histrionics, crying, dying, calling names will

get you therapy, but that's about all," Sen. Clarence W. Blount, D-Baltimore, told the crowd.

For the senator, Walbrook's reopening proved success was possible without angry confrontations. "You are one community that knows how to use the system," he said.

Neighborhood activist Georgine Edgerton, dubbed the "mayor of Walbrook," congratulated "all my friends I worried to death," including members of the Sanitation and Police departments who kept Walbrook's grounds from being trashed during the three years it was closed.

The $5 million asbestos-removal project began in March 1989 and ended in April 1990. An additional $9 million was spent on renovations.

"I'm just so glad to be back, I don't know what to do," said Frank Richardson, an incoming senior who attended Walbrook before it closed. "It was humiliating to be taken out of our school."

Mr. Richardson, who repeated the 11th grade because of illness, said he thought of transferring out of Walbrook but decided against it because the school's spirit was too strong.

"There's nothing else like this school," he said. "It seems like once you go to Walbrook, you're Walbrook for life."

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