Last spring, residents of the neighborhood surrounding Hampstead Hill Middle School, furious over the baseball-bat beating of Expedito "Pedro" Lugo, visited the school -- and found it horrible.
There was paint peeling off the walls in sheets, an interior made dim by faulty light fixtures, bad plumbing and bad morale, recalls Ed Rutkowski, president of the Baltimore-Linwood Neighborhood Association. This was where the youngsters who had allegedly cheered on the beating -- one student stands accused of taking part in it -- spent their days.
In one hectic summer of meetings, phone calls and abbreviated vacations, neighborhood residents and school and city officials have wrought what promises to be a new beginning for Hampstead Hill.
The atmosphere at an open house last night was one of wary optimismas residents reviewed the changes of the past three months. The changes include refurbished ceilings and floors, a newly painted auditorium, extra security, a new principal hired with the backing of the community and an effort to organize a parent-teacher association.
School officials also have transferred 200 students out of the school to make it easier to manage, but the enrollment appears to be hovering around 1,200 -- the same figure as last year -- because of new students. Final figures will be available next week, said Willie Foster, director of middle schools.
"The change is incredible," said Mr. Rutkowski, who headed a task force appointed by Mayor Kirt L. Schmoke to tackle the school's problems. "It's inviting now."
Another neighborhood resident, Carol Steibe, said, "There are improvements. I think the jury's still out on it." She and other residents are waiting to see whether the calm continues after the heavy police patrols dwindle, she said.
Addressing about 200 parents, teachers and residents in the plum- and pink-hued auditorium, Mr. Schmoke promised that the changesof the summer are just the start. "It's a good beginning, but let's make sure this entire school year is as good as the beginning," said Mr. Schmoke, one of several city officials who made Hampstead Hill a stop on their campaign circuit.
On the agenda: an attempt to find money and volunteers for after-school activities and plans to make Hampstead Hill Middle more of a neighborhood school through rezoning. Currently, only a fraction of the students come from the neighborhood.
"I think that things are looking up, I really do," said Kate Finston, president of the Southeast Community Association, who reckons she has attended more than 50 meetings since the controversy over the beating brought action last May. "It's in some ways more than I expected to happen."
Carol Kessler, whose son is entering seventh grade at the school, was impressed by the new principal, Margaret C. Wicks. Her son's first year at the school was "disappointing," she said, but there seems to be a different atmosphere this year. "I think we have good things to look forward to," she said.