City officials decide to delay demolition of former elementary school building

Community group seeks to preserve 1895 structure

June 18, 1999|By Zerline A. Hughes | Zerline A. Hughes,SUN STAFF

Baltimore's housing officials have delayed the demolition of part of the former Benjamin Banneker School until early next week after receiving a petition from supporters who want to save the school's West Building, built in 1895.

Empty since 1984, the former elementary school at Greenmount Avenue and Federal Street was sold in 1997 by the city to the Baltimore Metropolitan Korean Center. The center plans to transform part of the school into Greenmount Senior Center.

The Community Education Expansion Project, a group of alumni, teachers and former staff members, has been trying to persuade the city to save the building since the demolition was proposed. A 1931 building at the school is being renovated for the senior center.

Delervie Olaiya, president of the community project, said the petition was turned over to city housing officials Saturday. Olaiya said about 200 people signed the petition.

"In reviewing that building, both myself as well as the city's Commission on Historical Places see that there is no historical or architectural significance to keep that building up," said city Housing Commissioner Daniel P. Henson III. "Once we received the petition, however, I felt that I would delay the demolition. We need to figure out a way to memorialize the significance of the structure without maintaining the building itself."

Henson said the city will tear down the West Building on Monday or Tuesday.

Called the Colored Primary School, Banneker was one of the first black elementaries in the city. Members of the community education project want to have the school and much of the area around it designated a historic district.

"The school is surrounded by historic landmarks: the Green Mount Cemetery, Mount Royal Terrace, Penn Station and Saint Paul Street," said Olaiya. "There's a pride here we feel is too important to tear down. They have no regard for our history, our culture whatsoever."

The Korean Center won a citywide bid to take over the school property and wants to knock down the West Building to build a 35-space parking lot. Work on the $1.3 million project was to have begun with the demolition earlier this week.

"I'm glad we're taking the time to look at the situation," said Jay French, a consultant to the Korean Center. "I think it's good, and I'm glad the city is responding to the community."

Pub Date: 6/18/99

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