For Ashburton pupils, dream becomes reality Triumph: In Northwest Baltimore, a light, airy school -- designed with classical touches by architect Amy Crain of Pikesville -- is dedicated.

January 11, 1998|By Jamie Stiehm | Jamie Stiehm,SUN STAFF

It's plain to see that Ashburton Elementary and Middle School on Hilton Road is not just any old school -- it is, in fact, the second new public school built in Baltimore during the 10-year administration of Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke.

At yesterday's dedication ceremony, attended by hundreds, Schmoke described the handsome redbrick rectangular building as "the Camden Yards of schools." He joked that it was "just a coincidence" that it is in the Northwest Baltimore neighborhood where he lives.

After eight years of planning and construction, the school opened for classes last week, to the delight of the Ashburton and East Arlington neighborhoods. The day was also a triumph for Marylander Amy Crain, 32, who made her architectural debut with the $8.6 million building.

Crain, who grew up in Pikesville, practices with her father, Stanley L. Crain, who was her creative partner on the Ashburton project. She characterized the style of the school as "contemporary, with a classical feel."

Outside their cheerful classroom, complete with four computer stations, third-grade girls were nearly jumping up and down to give their opinions of the new school.

"I think it's fun," said Tyeisha Jackson, 8. Her classmate, Kara Anthony, 8, said she felt more excited to come to school in the morning.

Said Crain as she stood by the circular window announcing the school's front entrance: "It's really rewarding to design spaces for children. If I can make a difference in a child's day, I get a kick out of that."

Sixth-grade teacher Sabrina Elliot invited Crain into her class so Elliot could introduce her to students, who, the teacher said, were careful to keep floors and desks clean.

"They've been waiting a long time," said Elliot, a sentiment echoed by other teachers who had to make do with cramped rooms and makeshift conditions in the old Ashburton school, next to the new one.

Neighborhood leaders pressed hard for city and state lawmakers to appropriate funds for a new school.

"It was 10 years of constant struggle," said Roland Holmes, a resident of Ashburton for 30 years.

Funding for the school was held up in 1994 when Gov. William Donald Schaefer refused to approve the project in a political battle with Democratic state Sen. Clarence W. Blount. After a few months of community pressure, Schaefer toured the dilapidated old school and had a change of heart, dropping his opposition.

"The community was wonderful to work with," said Crain. "They really made this school happen." She said the gymnasium is in the front facing the street as a response to the community's desire for easy access and use.

The old building, formerly a private Hebrew school, was built in the 1950s and was used until last month. It will be torn down.

The school has some of the best features the 1990s have to offer in its 83,000 square feet and four stories: a media center (what used to be called the library), computer stations in every classroom from kindergarten to eighth grade, a career and technology center, a health suite, a science lab, an art room and a music room.

"We tell them, 'You have a right to a building like this,' " said the principal, Frances Ellington. "We also emphasize they have a responsibility to keep it that way."

Designed to hold 711 students, the current enrollment is 466, according to Ellington, who supervised children entering the cafeteria for the first time yesterday.

Ellington said teachers worked throughout the holiday to move teaching materials into the building.

"We were trying to keep calm, but we were just as excited as they [students] were," she said.

The principal considered it a positive experience for children to observe how many occupations are involved in building a school from the ground up. Construction started two years ago, but the design process took several years.

One prekindergartner, Asia Williams, 4, anticipated the opening so eagerly that she spoke of it every day during the holiday vacation, said her mother, April Wilson.

Far from institutional drabness, the school's interior color scheme on the concrete block walls is a study in four pastels -- blue, green, yellow and pink -- along with white.

Explaining how she and her father chose Palladian arched windows throughout the design, she said, "I personally like classical architecture, so there are a lot of Italian classical elements."

Another feature is a top floor with a high, exposed cedar ceiling. "That was one thing I insisted upon," said Crain, who noted that natural light flooded the stairwell's windows.

The Crains' collaboration produced a flurry of ideas from her, tempered by the practical experience of her 62-year-old father, head of the family firm, Harrison and Crain, in Pikesville.

"I love architecture, but what makes it really special is that I get to spend the day with my father," she said. The middle sibling, she has two brothers, one a surgeon and the other a stockbroker.

Holmes, the Ashburton activist, summed up the mood in the neighborhood as "nothing but jubilation."

Pub Date: 1/11/98

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