Accord on site of high school

Port Discovery new home of downtown `academies'

`Just awaiting final signatures'

City, school board agree on lease of museum space

August 03, 2002|By Erika Niedowski | Erika Niedowski,SUN STAFF

The Baltimore school system has reached an agreement with the Port Discovery children's museum to locate a new small high school there for the coming academic year.

Schools Chief Executive Officer Carmen V. Russo said yesterday that the school will open in September at Market Place, pending final approval from state Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick - who has expressed support for the idea.

The cost of the lease, which will be for one year, was not available.

Russo said yesterday it will be less than leasing a location previously considered, Charles Plaza, which would have cost nearly $1 million over the first two years and $1.2 million annually after that.

Russo said city school officials will continue to look during the next year for a permanent home for the school and will also consider staying at Port Discovery.

The children's museum has announced plans to move to the nearby Columbus Center.

"We're just awaiting final signatures," said Russo. "We're looking forward to having people visit us [at Port Discovery] and see these wonderful children."

The school will house two college preparatory academies - one for travel and tourism and the other for finance - and will open with 80 to 90 freshmen. It will add a grade a year until it has an enrollment of 350 to 400 students.

City school officials have been trying for months to find a place to put the new high school, one of several planned under a reform blueprint that calls for smaller, more rigorous high schools.

The school board approved in February a 12-year lease with Southern Management Corp. to locate the new school at Charles Plaza but district officials eventually reversed course, in part after a group of downtown business leaders, led by attorney Peter G. Angelos, vociferously objected.

They said that the school would not be compatible with efforts to revitalize the Charles Street corridor.

School officials later considered - and then dismissed - several other sites. A former firehouse at 10 S. Gay St. was abandoned because it was thought to be too close to The Block.

A plan to put the school on the Inner Harbor campus of Baltimore City Community College was discarded because there wasn't enough space.

Not everyone supports the plan to put the school at the current Port Discovery location.

Developer David Cordish, who remade the Power Plant entertainment complex on the waterfront, wants to redevelop the children's museum space.

He has said the city will lose millions in tax revenue by keeping its 99-year lease with Port Discovery, which costs $1 a year. The school system will sublet the property from Port Discovery.

Cordish did not return a telephone call seeking comment yesterday.

Others, including city Comptroller Joan Pratt, raised concerns about the site's proximity to bars and adult establishments.

Russo said last week that the Port Discovery site was the final one under consideration.

If the deal didn't work out, she said, the travel/tourism and finance academies would continue at their current locations, Southwestern and Lake Clifton-Eastern high schools, respectively, at least for the next year.

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