Friends School buying elbow room

18 acres on Falls Road to be used for athletics

September 25, 1999|By Jamie Stiehm | Jamie Stiehm,SUN STAFF

The city's oldest private school is buying 18 acres for athletic fields and tennis courts for $5.1 million from the Baltimore Country Club.

Friends School of Baltimore on North Charles Street has signed a contract to buy the land along Falls Road, school and club officials said yesterday.

School head Jon M. Harris said the additional land -- about a mile from the campus -- will allow the school to build eight more tennis courts, two soccer or lacrosse fields and a baseball diamond.

The purchase is the latest proposed expansion among elite North Baltimore's private schools, which have been hemmed in. In May, Bryn Mawr School for Girls on West Melrose Avenue bought the Mount Washington Club lacrosse field and clubhouse for its athletic program.

"We're all so land-locked, burgeoning at the seams," said Harris, who recently moved from Philadelphia to head the Quaker-founded, coeducational school, which has 1,000 students. "These are fields of dreams for us."

The expansion would relieve a space crunch for the school, which now has 35 acres. It also may allow the school to replace 10 tennis courts next to its buildings in the 5100 block of North Charles with a new arts center or middle school building in three or four years, administrators said.

The sale is not final and must be approved by the boards of the school and country club. In a letter to parents this month, the Friends School said it would know something definitive about the negotiations by the winter holiday break in December. Construction of a building at the school is still being planned.

Roland Park Country School head Jean Brune said yesterday that her institution had bid on the land for playing fields. Brune said that because of "difficult topography" at the school campus in the 5200 block of Roland Park Ave., the extra space would be valuable.

She declined to say how much her school offered for the land.

The 101-year-old Baltimore Country Club will maintain a presence in the city with its clubhouse, squash courts, fitness center and bowling alleys set on a hill above the 18 acres to be sold.

Country club president Gary T. Gill said yesterday, "We are steadfast in our commitment to the Roland Park clubhouse."

Though the land was not officially on the market, the Friends School proposal was taken seriously by country club officials because they planned to build a large tennis complex at a separate 405-acre site at Five Farms on Mays Chapel Road in Lutherville.

Country club officials like the idea of having athletic fields next to their clubhouse, Gill said. "The use was as important as the price," he said.

Parents and teachers at the school said yesterday that they are thrilled the school will be adding sports fields and expanding. A few said they are concerned the new fields will be several blocks from the main campus, though.

"I think it's fabulous," said Jay Sindler, a 43-year-old executive recruiter from Cedarcroft, as he walked out of the school yesterday afternoon with his sons C.J., 13, and Benjamin, 11.

"As the school moves forward into the new millennium, this will allow it a lot more potential for expansion without sacrificing any of its existing athletic fields," said Sindler, who graduated from the school in 1974.

Marie West, a 44-year-old statistician from Homeland whose daughter Natalie is a sixth-grader at the school, said the purchase is a positive sign for the long-term health of the school and the city.

"It means the school isn't planning on moving out of the city," West said. "My only concern is whether the school has all the transportation issues worked out from the school to the new fields."

Katya Cooke, a teacher and cross-country coach at the school, noted that baseball and softball teams often have to travel to remote locations to practice. The 18 acres may solve this problem.

"It will be very good for the school's athletic programs," Cooke said. "But it may mean I will have to do more driving in the school vans to transport the students over to this location."

Sun staff writer Tom Pelton contributed to this article.

Pub Date: 9/25/99

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