City board commits to middle school

Planning, design to start at Mount Washington despite lack of funds

May 15, 2002|By Erika Niedowski | Erika Niedowski,SUN STAFF

The Baltimore school board, in a unanimous vote last night, approved going ahead with the planning and design of a middle school at Mount Washington Elementary, even without knowing how its construction will be paid for later.

Parents had protested a decision last week by the state Board of Public Works to deny a city school system request to allow planning for a middle school - which put a roadblock in the community's push to expand the neighborhood school.

But last night, the school board took the unusual step of committing to a project that has no guaranteed funding source.

C. William Struever, school board vice chairman, said the system will go "full speed ahead" with the planning and design of the school while working with state officials to find the money to construct it.

"My faith has been renewed. I feel hopeful," said Eva Glasgow, whose 11-year-old son is a Mount Washington fifth-grader. "If they're going to put the dollars out for planning, they'll go ahead with the project."

The school system had committed to launching a sixth grade at Mount Washington in the fall, but a full middle school program was contingent on receiving a funding guarantee from the state. Some parents were reluctant to let their children begin sixth grade at the school without knowing whether there would be a seventh and eighth grade.

Now, Mount Washington Principal Lisa Harvin said last night, the school community can "move forward with some of the things that we have tentatively planned and make those plans final."

In public comments before the board's vote, Harvin urged the nine-member panel to "save this school."

She asked that the school system go ahead with the middle school anyway - even if it meant paying for it alone. She suggested that the board authorize bonds to finance it or agree to have a developer complete the project, then have the school system lease the facility after its completion.

After the vote, Harvin celebrated in the lobby of school system headquarters with Glasgow and George Lewis, chairman of Mount Washington's school improvement team.

Yale Stenzler, executive director of the state's public school construction program, had said the school district was asking to renovate or build more square footage than was justified by enrollment projections - the reason the Board of Public Works rejected the request for planning approval.

But Lewis, who has a third-grader at Mount Washington, said adding a middle school will help keep parents who might otherwise send their children to private or parochial schools.

"It's one of these, `If you build it, they will come,' " he said. "It's a cliche, but it's true."

Before, Lewis said, he didn't know what to tell parents of fifth-graders wondering whether their children could stay at Mount Washington through middle school.

Now he thinks the school board is committed to a middle school there - no matter what.

"I see a commitment by this board that they want to make this happen," he said. "I can't be any more excited about that."

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