Learning center to start fund campaign

$107,000 lien released on adult-education building at Ostend Street

June 24, 1999|By Joe Mathews | Joe Mathews,SUN STAFF

The South Baltimore Learning Center is expected to begin a campaign to raise $1.5 million today with the announcement that Bank of America has released a lien on the literacy program's building.

Since its founding 10 years ago, the nonprofit learning center at 28 E. Ostend St. has become South Baltimore's second-chance school of choice, helping hundreds to learn to read and earn their General Educational Development diplomas. But the center has struggled to stabilize its finances, pay its debts and expand its programs.

The bank's decision to release a $107,000 lien on the building will allow the center to acquire the facility debt-free and pave the way for long-term financial planning. The title will be presented to center officials during a news conference at 10 a.m. today.

"This is a pretty significant step for the neighborhood," said Sonny Morstein, a jeweler who heads the local business group. "Our school dropout rate down here [in South Baltimore] is 70 percent. I hate to sound like an advertisement, but the hope is that having this building means more people here will read and write."

The center, which educated 393 people from ages 18 to 72 last year, it operates at capacity and has a waiting list of more than 100. The operating budget -- estimated at slightly more than $300,000 -- is paid for with grants and donations.

"Getting the building allows us to start and really focus on the campaign," said Jamie Watkins, an Americorps Vista volunteer who does outreach for the center. "This is the beginning of a long process of expansion."

Money from the capital campaign, combined with a $200,000 bond bill passed by the state legislature, will go toward the renovation and expansion of the building. The extra capacity might allow the center to add weekend classes, hire more staff -- it employs eight full-time and four part-time instructors -- and serve up to 600 adult learners a year.

Baltimore RESCO, the Russell Street recycler, has donated more than $60,000 to launch the campaign. George Collins, former chief executive officer of T. Rowe Price and Associates, has agreed to serve as honorary chairman of the campaign.

Anyone age 18 or older can enroll for adult basic education, pre-GED, GED and one-on-one tutoring classes at the learning center or at one of its off-site locations. After signing up, students are given a placement test on reading comprehension, writing and math.

Except for GED courses at $30 a semester, classes are free.

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