Abell grant backs deal to bolster Catholic school Patterson Park homebuyers get tuition voucher offer

December 27, 1996|By Brenda J. Buote | Brenda J. Buote,SUN STAFF

Buy a home in Baltimore's Patterson Park neighborhood, and you may help secure the future of a local Catholic school -- and get your child a free education.

The East Fayette Street Community Development Corp. said yesterday that it will provide up to nine years of free education at the St. Elizabeth School in Southeast Baltimore to children whose parents purchase a renovated rowhouse from the nonprofit company.

Funding for the program is being provided by the Abell Foundation, which will donate up to $432,000 to East Fayette over the next nine years.

"We want to provide incentives for people to buy homes in Patterson Park," said Robert C. Embry Jr., president of the Abell Foundation. "Our other motive for funding this program is to keep St. Elizabeth open."

The future of the Lakewood Avenue school is being evaluated by the Archdiocese of Baltimore. Seeking to maintain a Catholic presence in that section of the city, without duplicating costly services and facilities, the Archdiocese is studying St. Elizabeth and five other schools in southeastern neighborhoods.

The assessment, which will be completed early next year, could lead to closings or mergers.

Embry and his allies at East Fayette hope their tuition program will spare St. Elizabeth.

"Each family that buys one of our homes will be eligible for up to nine years of free tuition at the St. Elizabeth School," said Ed Rutkowski, founder of the corporation.

Homebuyers will receive tuition vouchers, which may be used for one child or shared by several children. Tuition at the school is $2,300 per year, per child. The vouchers will be available next fall.

"This is fantastic news," Dick Gatto, principal of St. Elizabeth, said of the East Fayette program. "It's great that the foundation and the folks at East Fayette are showing their faith in Catholic education and supporting Catholic education."

A victim of urban flight and changing economics in the city's older neighborhoods and parishes, St. Elizabeth has in recent years experienced a decline in enrollment, Gatto said.

Only 172 youngsters currently attend St. Elizabeth -- that's 21 students fewer than last year, according to Lisa Klose, a spokeswoman for the archdiocese. The four-story granite structure can accommodate 525 pupils, she said.

"I think this free tuition should be viewed as a good test of whether vouchers to schools in the city work [by attracting] people to buy homes in the city," said Charles B. Duff Jr., East RTC Fayette board president.

Patterson Park is an integrated, working-class community -- where 70 percent of homes were owner-occupied in 1986, city records show. But in recent years, homeowners have sold to speculators and other investors in the 1-square-mile neighborhood or simply abandoned their properties. Their departure has inspired community leaders to try to reverse the trends.

East Fayette is a spinoff of the Patterson Park Neighborhoods Initiative, which offers financial counseling and low-interest mortgages to promote homeownership in Southeast Baltimore.

With aid from the Abell Foundation, which donated $40,000 last year for operating costs and agreed to guarantee half the mortgage on properties purchased by East Fayette, the development company was able to buy 13 homes in the two blocks surrounding Library Square, which is bordered by Linwood and Luzerne avenues, and Fayette Street and Pulaski Highway.

East Fayette is renovating the two- and three-story rowhouses, and hopes to sell them early next year for $35,000 to $60,000, Rutkowski said. The homes were bought for up to $25,000 and required rehabilitation costing $5,000 to $30,000.

Anyone interested in purchasing a home from East Fayette may contact the development corporation at (410) 732-1609.

Pub Date: 12/27/96

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