Officials fail to OK high school demolition Critics want to keep parts of the building

August 17, 1998|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,SUN STAFF

Demolition of parts of the old Catonsville High School will be delayed for a month because of a rare -- and embarrassing -- victory for critics of the Ruppersberger administration's plans to redevelop the vacant building into a $6.3 million community center.

The county's Landmarks Preservation Commission failed by one vote last week to approve demolition of all but the 1924 core of the school in the 100 block of Bloomsbury Ave. A new vote won't be taken until Sept. 10.

Although six of the nine commissioners at the meeting voted to approve the demolition permit, the 15-member commission's rules require seven affirmative votes to take action.

A small band of determined Catonsville activists who want the two 1930 wings of the building preserved with its original core raised enough doubts among those present to produce two abstentions and one "no" vote -- enough to block approval.

"I think the wings were contemporary. It's an integral part of the building," said Arlene Koeppel, who voted against demolition.

John P. Chalk, a commissioner who voted for demolition, disagreed, saying: "I just felt it was a done deal. The council and executive decided. There's no sense belaboring the point."

But former County Councilwoman Berchie Lee Manley, a leader of the effort to preserve the wings, said that County Executive C. A. Dutch Ruppersberger is "ignoring the people's wishes."

Manley's husband, John, is running for the council, hoping to replace Chairman Stephen G. Sam Moxley, a Catonsville-Arbutus Democrat who supports Ruppersberger's plan for the community center.

Although county officials say the delay won't affect the expected completion of the project in two years, it was a temporary victory for Manley and her allies.

Their fight began three years ago, when the county scrapped plans to renovate the structure -- vacant since 1990 -- into a new middle school. Instead, a committee, appointed by Ruppersberger last year to recommend uses for the vandalized building, proposed the community center, and the state and county agreed to split the cost.

But the plan calls for demolishing all but the original core of the building, renovating that, and adding a 7,500-square-foot gym.

Manley's contingent feels the two wings, built by the original contractor four years after the main building, can be incorporated into the new building. The County Council sided with Ruppersberger in a July vote, however, and added only the 1924 portion to the permanent preservation list, which protects it by law.

Manley is trying again to get the commission to put the wings on the list.

"The [demolition] contractor is ready to go," said Robert J. Barrett, Ruppersberger's special assistant. Of Manley's tactics, he said, "It's delay, delay, delay."

Pub Date: 8/17/98

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