Bates school renovations could begin next year

Several uses planned for historic building

January 08, 2002|By Lynn Anderson | Lynn Anderson,SUN STAFF

In a building where teachers once taught African-American students geometry and English before Maryland desegregated its public schools, senior citizens may soon relax in comfortable one-bedroom apartments.

Anne Arundel County officials announced yesterday that Wiley H. Bates High School in Annapolis, closed since 1981, could begin renovation next year for use in fall 2004 - news that cheered alumni and friends of the school.

"This is our school," said Pearl A. Brown, an Annapolis resident and 1961 Bates graduate. Brown's mother and father graduated from the school in 1936. They, like so many other alumni, studied in its classrooms and courted in its halls.

"It is dear to the hearts of African-American residents of this county," said Brown, who dated her former husband while a student at Bates.

The school opened in 1933 with financial help from Wiley H. Bates, a well-to-do Annapolis grocer and alderman. It has languished in disrepair for decades as its future was debated among Annapolis, county and state officials.

Officials said it will cost at least $14 million to rebuild the school, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

The project is being promoted as a powerful marriage of public and private partners. Under a proposed management plan, the county would maintain ownership of the 16-acre Bates site at Smithville Street and South Villa Avenue but lease the rambling building to tenants.

Plans call for the building to be recast as up to 71 senior apartments, a senior center and an after-school facility for the Boys and Girls Club of Annapolis and Anne Arundel County.

County Executive Janet S. Owens made the school's renovation a priority when she was elected in 1998. "This is the project that has taken forever, and there are such high expectations for it," Owens said.

When asked if she thought work on the project would finally begin, she said, "Oh, I hope so."

Early on, the Owens administration kicked in $3 million to pay for asbestos removal and a much-needed roof. The old roof had gotten so bad that plants were growing in some classrooms. County officials referred to one area as the "fern room" for its lush greenery.

With help from the state, which matched the county's contribution, the project boasts a healthy $6 million budget. Of that, at least $2.2 million was spent on the roof and other maintenance.

Owens tapped Kathleen M. Koch, executive director of Arundel Community Development Services Inc., a nonprofit arm of county government that deals with housing issues, to head the project. Koch said she hopes the school's history and architectural aesthetics, including high ceilings, wide windows and roomy halls, will help attract an experienced and creative development team. Developer bid packages are due to Koch by March 4.

One of those excited to see the renovation project begin at long last is Reginald Broddie, executive director of the Boys and Girls Club. He and his staff are putting together a capital campaign with hopes of collecting $3 million to renovate the school's gym and cafeteria for use as space for children to dance, sing, play and learn.

"This project has had four or five lives, but we are just happy and excited to be a part of it," Broddie said, adding that the new facility, with a capacity of 350, would allow more children to participate in club activities.

The county will cover costs to renovate a portion of the school and turn it into a "premier" senior center, expected to cost $3 million, which will include a billiards room, gym and medical offices.

A small section of the school will be used as an exhibition area where residents and visitors will be able to learn more about the school and its place in local and national history. At the heart of the community center, in a tree-lined courtyard, will be a statue of Bates.

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