A developer has agreed to sell his interest in the Wiley H. Bates property to Anne Arundel County, breathing new life into the decade-old struggle to save the dilapidated school building.
The county will buy out Baltimore developer Leonard Frenkil, who formed a partnership with the non-profit Bates Foundation to preserve the school as a community and senior center, for $250,000. Mr. Frenkil had previously offered to sell his interest for $740,000.
Annapolis, in turn, could take control of the boarded-up building, once the county's only high school for blacks, as early as next month.
City leaders have objected strenuously to developing the school grounds. In January, the City Council shot down Mr. Frenkil's proposal to subsidize the cost of renovating the school, which is saddled with a $1 million asbestos problem, by building 86 town houses around it.
Mayor Alfred A. Hopkins and County Executive Robert R. Neall agreed last month to make another bid to buy out the developer just before the 16-acre property was scheduled to be turned over to him.
Mr. Frenkil said he was persuaded that he faced an uphill battle to build anything on the school grounds by Mr. Neall and Jerome W. Klasmeier, the county's director of central services.
"I never wanted to be a spoiler," he said Friday. "I felt with the leadership of the county executive, the project would move ahead and not take an eternity, and it was best if we step aside."
The state Board of Public Works must still approve transferring the land to the city. Mr. Neall's spokeswoman, Louise Hayman, said the county will "move immediately to request that it be turned over to the city."
Alderman Carl O. Snowden said the latest development in the Bates saga left many questions unanswered. It's unclear whether the Bates Foundation will continue to play a role, who will pay for the asbestos removal and what kind of memorial will be established, he said.
"Unfortunately, this project from day one right up to the present has been one setback after the other," he said.
The emotional effort to save the school, closed since 1981, divided the city last year and pitted black neighbors against environmental activists.
But county officials said by buying out the developer, the city could move ahead with a project that would not disturb the fragile property, pleasing both the black community and environmentalists.