Officials hope for short vacancies

City wants to reuse closed schools quickly

April 02, 2001|By Erika Niedowski | Erika Niedowski,SUN STAFF

If Charles W. Simmons has his way, Charles Carroll of Carrollton Elementary-Middle School won't be boarded up for long once it closes.

Simmons, president of Sojourner-Douglass College, thinks the school building - one of seven the Baltimore school board has decided to close in the summer - would make the perfect "campus" for his expanding adult-education programs in East Baltimore.

"We ought to find a way for these buildings to continue to serve the community in one fashion or another, preferably from an educational perspective," said Simmons who has shared his idea with city officials. "We would use [Charles Carroll] as an academic facility, but we would also make the building available to the community."

Even before the school board decided last month to close schools to offset declining enrollment, parents and community leaders raised concerns about what would become of the empty buildings.

The last thing Baltimore needs, they said, is to add to its inventory of about 14,000 vacant houses, which can become magnets for loitering, vandalism and other nuisance crimes.

City officials say they are preparing a maintenance plan to keep the buildings from becoming eyesores once the school system moves out.

"For us, the best thing that could happen is that we move as quickly and expeditiously as possible to get a viable reuse on that piece of land so the property isn't sitting there vacant and foul, and [it is] contributing to the tax base of the city," said Charles Graves, the city planning director.

The last time the city closed multiple schools at the same time was 1980, when five were shut. One success story is the old James Monroe Elementary at 1800 Hollins St. Bon Secours Hospital bought the building and converted it into the Hollins Terrace apartments. The hospital turned another school, the former Betsy Ross Elementary at 400 Millington Ave., into the Benet House apartments for seniors.

The schools scheduled to close this summer are Charles Carroll of Carrollton, 200 N. Central Ave.; Harbor View Elementary, 4411 Sixth St.; Luther Craven Mitchell Primary, 1731 E. Chase St.; Madison Square Elementary, 1401 E. Biddle St.; Malcolm X Primary, 2810 Shirley Ave.; Mildred E. Monroe Elementary, 1634 Guilford Ave.; and Park Heights Elementary, 4910 Park Heights Ave.

Two more schools, Edgewood Elementary, 1900 Edgewood St., and Lafayette Elementary, 851 Braddish Ave., will shut their doors next year and in 2003, respectively.

City agencies have the first chance to claim the empty buildings - which need more than $46.9 million in maintenance work - once the school board declares them "surplus," said Graves. If no agency is interested, the city would work with residents and community groups to identify potential uses for the space, such as an office building or apartment complex. The city would then seek proposals from developers.

The process can take up to two years, but city officials hope to reduce it to less than a year, said J. Keith Scroggins, head of the Public Works Department's general services bureau and chairman of the city's property disposition task force.

But the city wants the school buildings to be used in ways that will be welcomed by the community, Scroggins said.

Simmons of Sojourner-Douglass College understands the importance of integrating a school into its community. The college offers computer clubs for youths and seniors, mentoring programs and free tax-return preparation to its neighbors, he said.

And he wants neighbors of the Charles Carroll school to know: "We have historically made our facility available to the community. That's part of our mission."

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