Board OKs demolition of wings of building

Former middle school to house recreation center

February 11, 1999|By Melody Simmons | Melody Simmons,SUN STAFF

The Baltimore County Board of Appeals cleared the way yesterday for bulldozers to raze the two wings of the former Catonsville Middle School on Bloomsbury Avenue so county officials can convert the structure to a $6.3 million recreation center.

Only a challenge in Circuit Court by community preservationists can halt the demolition, officials said yesterday.

During a 1 1/2-hour meeting, the board upheld a previous ruling of the county Landmark Preservation Commission that authorized issuance of a demolition permit for the 71-year-old wings of the Bloomsbury building.

The ruling caps a four-year battle between preservationists and county officials over the fate of the school and the future of the historic structure.

"This is good news to the community," said Jay Doyle, a spokesman for the county. "We're going to be able to proceed with a recreational facility that's going to be a tremendous benefit to the community. That's been our goal all along."

But opponents protested the ruling and criticized county officials who they charge "did not consider the historical aspects of this building."

David Wismund, who lives a half-mile from the school, said he was unsure if a suit would be filed in Circuit Court because "it's quite expensive to go further."

The school, declared a historic structure by the Maryland Historic Trust, was built in 1925 as Catonsville High School and later used as a junior high and middle school. Vacant for eight years, it is home to hundreds of pigeons and is dirtied by debris from vandals who have smashed nearly all the glass.

Some in the southwestern area had sought to renovate the old middle school and keep it as a school and, in 1994, Catonsville residents voted overwhelmingly to provide bonds for a renovation. In addition, residents collected thousands of signatures on petitions to save the entire building, which is near the center of town.

But county officials later moved to convert the building into a much-needed recreational center and obtained state funding for part of the conversion, which is expected to start soon.

Berchie Lee Manley, a former member of the County Council from Catonsville who has fought to keep the Bloomsbury school intact, expressed bitterness yesterday over the fight.

"It's political, strictly political," she said.

Last month, the County Council passed legislation to eliminate resident appeals to the Board of Appeals for proposed changes to county-owned historic properties. Critics said the bill, sponsored by County Executive C. A. Dutch Ruppersberger, was aimed at wiping out opposition to the Bloomsbury project and future plans for the other 23 county-owned historic buildings.

Ruppersberger moved last year to strengthen county historic preservation laws after he was criticized for failing to protect historic properties.

Pub Date: 2/11/99

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