A happy ending?

May 10, 2002

THE RIDICULOUS struggle over a new downtown high school may produce a happy ending after all: The school board hopes to lease temporary classrooms from Baltimore City Community College's Inner Harbor campus.

That deal would enable a school to open in September to train an initial class of 90 students for finance and tourism careers. Meanwhile, the school board would buy more time to identify a permanent site. The Planned Parenthood building at 610 N. Howard St. and the old Hendler ice cream factory at 1100 E. Baltimore St. are leading candidates.

The BCCC link could be a nearly ideal short-term solution: The campus is in the middle of the city's hotel corridor and near many key financial institutions. Public transportation is nearby. The academy could benefit from an association with the BCCC's hospitality and finance programs and their staff.

The sooner the BCCC deal is concluded, the better. It's also time to get past the suspicions that defeated the school board's initial efforts to locate the new academy at Charles Plaza. That location, at Charles and Saratoga streets, became so contentious one might have thought a halfway house was proposed, not a school.

However, archived protest letters from nearby businesses, including three major hotels and other powerful money interests, should come in handy. All have promised to "work collectively to support a site that best meets the needs of all Baltimore."

When the high school's classes start at BCCC, the school board should not hesitate to call in those IOUs. Opponents of the Charles Plaza site should provide training, financial aid and mentoring to the students, to demonstrate that they were against the proposed location, not the school itself.

The finance and tourism high school is the first of a handful of training academies the school system hopes to establish downtown within the next couple of years.

These training academies address a longtime complaint by downtown businesses - that qualified applicants are nonexistent or in short supply. That's why those businesses should be happy to rally in support of the school system's bold experiments.

As for the school board, the past months' agony should have taught it a lesson: An affected neighborhood ought to be consulted before a site is chosen, not afterward.

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