New hope for Annapolis' Bates School

January 31, 1995

The Wiley H. Bates High School building in Annapolis has stood lifeless for more than a quarter-century awaiting an idea and some money to restore it to its rightful prominence in the community.

That time may have come at last.

Anne Arundel County Executive John G. Gary has pledged that zTC the county will give $2 million to help renovate the building, which once served as Anne Arundel's only high school for African-American students.

The funding is contingent upon contributions of at least several million dollars from the state and private sector, but the county's commitment brings the renovation a little closer to reality.

For more than a dozen years, residents have fought to save the building on Smithville Street. Various plans were considered, including a conference center, a school for drug-addicted mothers and a senior citizens center.

A breakthrough come last year when the building was added to the National Register of Historic Places, a designation that protects it from demolition and makes it available for state and federal grants.

A county task force has devised a new plan for the old school that is the best of all that have been considered. The committee has recommended that the property be divided into four components: senior housing, a senior citizens center, a community services center and a park.

Both public and private agencies would help develop and oversee the project, which would serve residents of all ages and backgrounds.

Much work still must be done to realize this dream. The Bates Foundation, the non-profit community group which is to operate the community services center, will have to raise at least $2 million.

The state, which has already promised $1 million for asbestos removal, must approve a bond for another $2 million.

And the city must accept responsibility for the park and lend its cooperation by approving the zoning changes that are required.

Jean Creek, president of the Bates Foundation, believes reconstruction could begin in a year. Given the long and troubled history of the project, that may be overly optimistic.

Nevertheless, we applaud the county executive's promise to help renovate the Bates school for a use that does justice to its proud history.

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