Hamilton wins time for its school

May 05, 1994|By Gary Gately | Gary Gately,Sun Staff Writer

They fought City Hall, and they won one, at least temporarily.

As word that Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke had approved a decision yesterday afternoon to raze Hamilton Elementary-Middle School spread through the surrounding neighborhood, parents and community activists deluged City Hall and state legislators' offices with calls of protest.

Their case for preserving the crumbling 69-year-old anchor of the Northeast Baltimore community proved persuasive enough to sway the mayor.

By 6 p.m., two hours after backing Superintendent Walter G. Amprey's decision, Mr. Schmoke had agreed to instead consider a last-minute proposal to renovate the school instead of replacing it with a park and moving the 600 students to Northern Parkway Junior High.

"It's a sign of true community empowerment, and it proved successful in this case," the mayor's spokesman, Clinton R. Coleman, said.

"The mayor supported the superintendent's decision and thought that was the way to go. But, when the mayor became aware of this 11th-hour proposal, he immediately embraced it," Mr. Coleman said.

The compromise proposal, engineered by community activists working with lawmakers, would temporarily move the students to Northern Parkway Junior next fall. As school officials planned the renovation, they would try to get more state money for an expansion.

The city already has about $4 million in state money and about $1 million in municipal funds available to renovate the school. It needs major repairs and renovations, including asbestos removal, a new heating system, wiring and plumbing. The cramped school, in the 6100 block of Old Harford Road, has about 600 students but was built to hold only about 375.

In March, a school committee recommended that Hamilton be closed rather than renovated at a cost of $4.1 million. Students would move to the old Northern Parkway Junior High School building, in the 2500 block of busy, six-lane East Northern Parkway. That school building is only about a half-mile from Hamilton, but is not linked as closely to the neighborhood.

The school system has agreed to send a survey home with students today to gauge parents' views on different options before making a final decision, said John O'Connell, assistant superintendent for the northeast area.

As more than 125 residents gathered last night in a room that doubles as the gym and cafeteria, Lois Garvey, executive director of the HARBEL Community Association, beamed. "We talk all the time in this city about community schools, and getting the community involvement," she said. "Well, they got it, it's here. It's alive and well."

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