Site sought for high school

Gay St. building ruled out as temporary location

Officials eye BCCC downtown

But college president says campus is short on space

May 10, 2002|By Scott Calvert and Erika Niedowski | Scott Calvert and Erika Niedowski,SUN STAFF

Baltimore school officials are still seeking a temporary home for a new downtown high school after ruling out a South Gay Street site this week because it sits in the shadow of The Block's strip clubs and adult video stores.

Officials hope to lease part of Baltimore City Community College's downtown campus, but the college is short on space and possibly unable to house 80 to 90 high school freshmen in the fall.

"We are a partner with Baltimore City public schools, and we want to be helpful in any way," said the college's president, James D. Tschechtelin. But "this particular request is one where we would have to sort through a number of things before we would be able to come to a conclusion."

Any agreement would require the blessing of the college's board of trustees, which meets Thursday.

The hunt for short-term classroom space resumed after the school system abandoned plans to put the school - two "academies," one focused on finance and the other on travel and tourism - at Charles Plaza long term.

Some downtown business leaders, including lawyer Peter G. Angelos, lobbied vigorously against the idea, telling schools Chief Executive Officer Carmen V. Russo and Mayor Martin O'Malley that a school would not be a good fit with Charles Street businesses.

Developer David H. Hillman, who owns Charles Plaza, has called opponents "racist" for not wanting students, most of them black, in the area.

After school officials contacted the community college last week, Tschechtelin suggested they look at 10 S. Gay St., a renovated firehouse that the college recently vacated.

Mark Smolarz, the school system's chief operating officer, said he toured the Gay Street location and found it would have fit the new high school's needs perfectly - except that it sits right off The Block. From the building's front door, one can plainly see the Big Top and its advertisements for 25-cent "peeps."

Tschechtelin said the college had no problems in the five years it was there. Its continuing education center moved because the college found space closer to campus.

He suggested that The Block's nocturnal rhythm would not have affected the academy, even with clubs open during the day. "It's in the evening when that place lights up," he said, "and that's not when the downtown academy would be functioning."

But school officials quickly scotched the idea and focused anew on the college's Bard Building on Lombard Street, near the hotels and banks where students could have internships.

"The downtown campus, we think, would be perfect," Smolarz said. "It's more downtown than Charles Plaza. It's already built out, so the community around there should be OK with more kids. The problem there is they don't have enough space."

Not enough space is right, Tschechtelin said. The building is "the most frequently and intensively used" of all its buildings, he said. "Is it impossible to do, space-wise? The honest answer is no. It means we'd do less of some things we're doing."

In addition, he said, some college officials wonder how 14-year-old students would behave in a college setting. Tschechtelin noted, though, that the students would be selected specifically for the program and would be supervised.

He also sees benefits to having college and high school students under one roof - a view echoed by school system officials.

"We are excited about the ability to encourage our students to think of college," said C. William Struever, the school board's vice chairman. "There is no better way to do that than to get them on the college campus."

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