Former school building is destroyed by arson

May 04, 1994|By Melody Simmons and Scott Higham | Melody Simmons and Scott Higham,Sun Staff Writers

Arson was the cause of a blaze in an abandoned Northwest Baltimore school yesterday that slightly injured five firefighters and a bystander, fire officials said.

Several fires were set on the second floor of the two-story red brick building on a closed section of Shirley Avenue between Park Heights Avenue and Reisterstown Road.

The building, for many years the Isaac Davidson Hebrew School, housed the Park Heights Street Academy through most of the last decade. But recently, neighbors said, the boarded building was a hangout for drug dealers and addicts.

Fire officials said the first of three alarms was sounded at 7:51 a.m. Firefighters had the blaze under control shortly after 10 a.m. -- but by then the interior had been burned out, and the roof was gone.

Battalion Chief Hector Torres, a fire department spokesman, said the 8,000-square-foot building appeared to be a total loss, with damage estimated at $325,000.

The five injured firefighters were treated at Mercy Medical Center for minor burns and other injuries, and a woman bystander was treated for smoke inhalation at Sinai Hospital, officials said.

About 125 firefighters, with 40 pieces of equipment, battled the blaze.

The Park Heights Street Academy -- a three-year college preparatory school -- had been the city's only black, private secondary school. It was established in 1979 as an alternative for students who didn't want to attend city public schools.

Administrators decided to close the academy before the 1989-90 school year after private donations declined.

Neighbors said that the building was seriously damaged by vandals after the academy closed and more recently had been inhabited by drug dealers and users.

When the school closed, "the guys took crowbars and broke in and stole everything -- Xerox machines, typewriters, everything that wasn't nailed down," said Elaine Gallop, who has lived in the Park Heights community for 15 years.

"We told [the police] this fire was going to happen because the drug addicts were sleeping in there," she said.

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