County starts review of Catonsville plans Recreation center would go on site of former school

September 24, 1997|By Melody Simmons | Melody Simmons,SUN STAFF

Development of the former Catonsville Middle School moved one step closer to reality yesterday as Baltimore County bureaucrats began a review of two plans to convert the decrepit site into a community recreation center.

One plan would be to raze most of the building and add a new, modern gym while the other would be to raze the entire building and replace it with an elaborate facility and gym, county Department of Recreation and Parks officials revealed during an hourlong work session.

With a budget of $5 million, the project will be tailored to funds, said Robert H. Bendler Jr., deputy director of the Recreation and Parks Department.

County Executive C. A. Dutch Ruppersberger will make the final decision this year in his budget request.

A feasibility study is expected by Oct. 6, Bendler said. It will be given to a task force of community activists who have focused on what to do with the building after Board of Education administrators said they had no interest in reopening a school at the site on Bloomsbury Avenue off Frederick Road.

Today, the old school sits vacant and blighted, home to hundreds of pigeons and dirtied by debris from vandals who have smashed nearly all the glass in the building. In the past, the site was one of Catonsville's grand addresses, particularly in the late 1800s when the Catonsville Country Club graced the grounds.

There, in the shadow of a large Victorian-style clubhouse, Wilbur and Orville Wright once played tennis, and the Princeton and Yale football teams clashed on the lawn. Elaborate society weddings took place on the veranda, and a July 4th celebration was held each year.

After the clubhouse burned in 1906, the county Board of Education purchased the grounds and opened Catonsville High School in 1925, using the club's former "casino" building for classrooms.

The high school eventually became a middle school, which was closed eight years ago because of structural problems, including flooding and poor drainage.

The county's study of the two plans for the site follows years of emotional and controversial wrangling among Catonsville's residents over the building. One of the plans calls for the county to rebuild a replica of the country club mansion to hold the new community center and gym.

Robert W. Bowling, chief of development plan review for the county, said such an elaborate plan would have to fall within budget.

Pub Date: 9/24/97

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