Music class crashes to halt amid renovation

Construction crew surprises students

eviction is reversed

February 19, 2000|By JoAnna Daemmrich | JoAnna Daemmrich,SUN STAFF

Children were in the middle of music lessons Thursday afternoon at the Baltimore Talent Education Center when they were interrupted by a loud crash.

It wasn't just someone playing the cymbals.

Three construction workers had begun to tear down drywall and haul furniture out of a classroom. The foreman held up a work order and told the bewildered teachers and students to leave because the space was being claimed by the city school administration.

"We heard some banging, and then dust started flying," said Kelly Schwartz, whose sons, Joseph, 8, and Jacob, 6, were taking violin and cello lessons. "We walked out into the hallway, and the crew started taking out the chairs and desks. We couldn't believe it."

The unceremonious eviction was halted after parents frantically called school headquarters and City Hall. By yesterday morning, Mayor Martin O'Malley had intervened, and embarrassed school officials promised that the music program could continue in all but one classroom.

"It was a series of miscommunications that led to a faux pas," said Anana Kambon, the mayor's special assistant for fine arts and education. "Neither the mayor nor the Baltimore City public school system has any intention of dissolving this wonderful program. There will be better communication to make sure it doesn't happen again."

The Baltimore Talent Education Center provides classical stringed-instrument training at little cost for more than 150 children from preschool through high school. Students take weekly afternoon classes and are given instruments to take home for practice.

The popular program, financed largely by the city school system, operates on the fourth floor of an old junior high in Northeast Baltimore. The Stadium School, a nontraditional public school, is housed in the same building, as are the central area school offices.

Short of adequate office space, school administrators wanted to move across the hall into one or more of the four classrooms that had been lent to the music program. But negotiations with the program stalled, and the school district moved ahead with claiming space.

"In no way did we or do we intend to displace students," Jeffery Grotsky, the central area executive officer, said yesterday. "The problem is, I've had additional staff assigned to the office, and I have staff with no place to sit. I basically said I needed space."

Schwartz responded, "So they just decided to take it? Without any more conversation?"

Parental worries have been assuaged, for now, by the school district's promise that the program can continue in three rooms that have been divided in half to provide six music sections.

The fourth classroom will be converted into administrative offices, said schools spokeswoman Vanessa Pyatt.

For Schwartz and other parents, the flying dust was a reminder that the program needs a more permanent home. It has moved twice in the past decade, landing in its current location three years ago after getting a 24-hour notice to leave Pimlico Elementary.

"It's not always possible to get a permanent lease, but we'd like to get some type of longer commitment," Schwartz said.

The district might be able to make such an offer, said Pyatt. Once the Stadium School moves into a new building, possibly by fall, the district hopes to be able to let the Baltimore Talent Education Center stay where it is now.

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