City OKs $1-a-year lease on former library Charles Village residents plan reuse as learning center

March 26, 1998|By Jamie Stiehm | Jamie Stiehm,SUN STAFF

Charles Village residents will move forward with fund raising and renovation plans for reopening the closed St. Paul Street library building as a learning center after the city's Board of Estimates approved a $1-a-year lease yesterday with two neighborhood groups.

The city lease followed by a day approval by the House Appropriations Committee of $60,000 for the center's staffing and educational materials in the governor's supplemental budget. A Senate budget subcommittee approved a separate $156,000 matching grant for building renovation. Both spending proposals must be voted on by both houses of the state legislature.

The proposed $440,000 project is a long way from being fully funded, said Lee Jaslow, a community activist leading volunteer efforts to reuse the old library.

Jaslow said the neighborhood must raise "$200,000 or more" to achieve the aim of opening a community learning center with a library and garden next spring.

"Our biggest challenge now is to find several individuals, foundations or corporations willing to make substantial contributions to match the state funds," said Jaslow, 46, president of the newly established Village Learning Place Inc.

The lease -- signed by Village Learning Place and the nonprofit Charles Village Community Foundation Inc. -- came six months after the city closed the century-old red-brick library despite a bitter community protest and lawsuit.

Enoch Pratt Free Library officials closed two of the city's 28 branches last year, in Charles Village and Morrell Park, because of a budget shortfall of nearly $1 million.

"This [lease] is a win-win," said Anthony J. Ambridge, the city's real estate officer. "The closing brought forth turmoil. From that was born optimism and hope."

Sharon Guida, a lawyer representing the two community groups, described the lease as "the cornerstone of our plans to restore the building."

She said a community committee will discuss with Pratt officials how to comply with a Baltimore Circuit Court judge's order that the facility maintain "an Enoch Pratt presence."

The 15-year lease includes an option to buy the building and land from the city, Ambridge said. The Charles Village groups assumed responsibility for insurance, utilities and other maintenance costs.

Jaslow said he has been in touch with two educational institutions, Baltimore Reads and the John Hopkins University, about organizing after-school tutoring and reading-enrichment programs for children.

He said his group hopes to have a children's circulating library run by students of the neighboring Margaret Brent Elementary School.

Pub Date: 3/26/98

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