Business opposition to school renewed

Charles Street location could endanger students, renewal plan, group says

March 05, 2002|By Liz Bowie and Erika Niedowski | Liz Bowie and Erika Niedowski,SUN STAFF

A group of businesses renewed yesterday their opposition to a small, public high school that would open in Charles Plaza next fall -- even as Mayor Martin O'Malley said he believes the school system should continue to seek alternatives to the location approved by the board last week.

The statement delivered to the mayor and school officials by nearby businesses says the school would have a negative impact on efforts by the city to revitalize a key downtown artery.

"Such a facility at this location is not only harmful to the city in achieving its goal of rescuing Charles Street from decline, but could prove harmful to students as well," the statement said.

The group -- including Baltimore Gas and Electric Co., Harbor Bank, the Kornblatt Co., the law offices of Peter G. Angelos, the Raddison Hotel, Tremont Plaza Hotel, Wyndham Hotel and the Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Foundation -- believes it is dangerous for students to cross the congested intersection at Saratoga and Charles streets.

O'Malley, while supporting the concept of a downtown high school, said there may be problems in renovating the Charles Plaza building and getting state school board support for the project.

"I think a downtown finance academy is a terrific idea," said O'Malley of one program that would be offered at the high school. "Exactly where it gets sited is an open question to me."

The mayor said he had an agreement with schools chief Carmen V. Russo to continue looking at alternative locations. And O'Malley said he believes the school system could have done a better job of talking with prospective neighbors before voting on the proposal.

Last week, Baltimore's school board approved a 12-year lease with Southern Management Corp. to locate a high school on the second floor of Charles Plaza, adjacent to Charles Towers. The school would have two academies -- one for finance and another for travel and tourism -- and would open in September with 80 to 90 freshmen.

Initial criticism of the proposal by the Downtown Partnership of Baltimore dissolved recently after school officials clarified issues, including student transportation, and reduced the number of students to 350, instead of 500, when the school is at full capacity in a few years.

Yesterday's protest came from businesses close to where the school would be.

"If you took a site plan out you would see the amount of space that is physically available for the children to get out of the school is unbelievably small. It is just impossible in my view to be able to control that many teen-agers in that tiny little space," said Betty Jean Murphy, principal in Savannah Development Corp., which converted the northwest corner of Saratoga and Charles into apartments.

The group said it supports the concept of a downtown high school and would work with the school system to find another location.

"We're not trying to be obstructionist in this effort," said Tom Marudas, assistant to Peter G. Angelos. "In fact, we have made it clear in our statement and in public hearings that we're very supportive of this concept and that is has a lot of merit."

Marudas said that the stance taken by the executive committee of the Downtown Partnership is "not representative of the corporations and businesses and residential developments immediately affected by the project."

The school system did not respond to the group's specific complaints yesterday.

"The board has acted; we don't see a need to comment at this time," said Edie M. House, school system director of communications.

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