Renovation work to start on Catonsville school that local preservationists struggled to save

Building to become community rec center

January 24, 2000|By Joan Jacobson | Joan Jacobson,SUN STAFF

Nearly a year after county bulldozers razed the wings of a historic middle school in Catonsville -- much to the chagrin of neighbors -- restoration work is about to begin on the remainder of the 75-year-old structure.

George Klunk, property manager for Baltimore County's Office of Budget and Finance, said the renovation of what was originally Catonsville High School will begin next month.

The building in the 100 block of Bloomsbury Ave. will become a community recreation center. A gymnasium will be built nearby. Funding for the $6.3 million project will be provided by the state and the county.

Registration saved building

The building -- a target for vandals since becoming vacant nearly 10 years ago -- was most recently used as the Catonsville middle school. It was also the subject of a bitter feud between Catonsville preservationists and county officials about whether it should be saved and recycled as a school.

Catonsville Community Conservation Association succeeded in saving the building by registering it as a landmark with the county's Historic Preservation Commission. The county, however, would not agree to restore it as a school.

The building was designed by the architectural firm of Smith and May. The firm also designed the 1929 Maryland National Bank building in downtown Baltimore, Towson High School and buildings at the University of Maryland medical and law schools, according to county historical records. The Catonsville school's main entrance is an architectural mix of Gothic and art deco.

Concerns

Jim Himel, association vice president, said last week that it is unfortunate the renovation has taken so long. The wings were demolished nearly a year ago.

He also said he is bothered that the ends of the building where the demolition took place no longer fit the historic character of the building.

Kim Abe, executive secretary of the county's preservation commission, said the group has approved plans to restore the ends with a "mostly brick facade with a bit of mosaic stonework."

Need for teen center

Anne Walker, a Catonsville resident who runs programs for middle school pupils, said she and other volunteers hope to use part of the building for a cyber cafe, a meeting site for clubs, and a job bank where teen-agers can learn about internships.

"We want a teen center that's open every day and on weekends," she said.

The building, she said, is in "an excellent location. It's in central Catonsville, accessible walking distance for lots of residents."

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