Grant boosts tower project

$436,950 in federal funds launches planetarium plan at W. Arlington water site

`This is really a milestone'

April 29, 2003|By Reginald Fields | Reginald Fields,SUN STAFF

A West Baltimore neighborhood group's dream of transforming an obsolete 19th-century water tower into a useful educational tool for children received a big boost yesterday from a high place - Congress.

Rep. Elijah E. Cummings, of Baltimore, presented the West Arlington Improvement Association of Baltimore City Inc. with a $436,950 grant - money that is meant to jump-start the reconstruction effort.

Plans for the $4 million project include transforming the defunct 120-foot West Arlington water tower into a planetarium and building a youth center at its base.

"This is really a milestone because we have been working at this for a long time," said Charles W. Griffin, president of the West Arlington group.

The neighborhood he represents is a small community nestled between Garrison and North Rogers avenues, just east of Arlington Cemetery of Chizuk Amuno Congregation.

"Dr. Griffin said his major issue was to create something at that site for the children, and we were able to pull together some money to help," said Cummings during the grant presentation at the Forest Park Senior Center on Liberty Heights Avenue.

Mayor Martin O'Malley and state Del. Samuel I. Rosenberg also were present for the announcement.

Afterward, officials and pupils from Calvin M. Rodwell Elementary and Pimlico Middle schools posed for pictures with a poster board-sized check.

The grant is a solid start for the association, although much more money must be raised.

The group hopes to have enough funding by next summer to start the project, and it could be several years before the work is complete, Griffin said.

Plans call for changing the tower, located in the 4000 block of Ridgewood Ave., into a five-level planetarium, science exhibit and observation post. A 10,000-square-foot youth center with an in-ground pool and a gymnasium will be built at the foot of the tower.

Children will learn about science and math at the planetarium while after-school programs and recreational activities will be offered at the center.

The brick octagonal tower with a slate roof was built in 1899 and was used to supply water to West Arlington because the community was higher than existing reservoirs. By the early 1930s, the city had phased out the use of the tower, and it was to be demolished in 1933. But funding for demolition was never approved, and the tower has stood vacant since.

"That tower is an eyesore. It has always been an incredible eyesore for this community," Griffin said.

Six years ago, the idea for renovating the tower was broached during an association meeting with neighbors in Griffin's living room.

After his attempts to obtain funding were repeatedly rebuffed by local and state officials, Griffin said, he took his request to Cummings in 2001.

The Baltimore congressman credited other Maryland lawmakers, mainly Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski, with helping with the successful funding proposal for West Arlington.

Griffin said the association would team with the Maryland Science Center to renovate the tower.

The youth center will be part of the second phase of the project.

The West Arlington group is seeking public and private donations and has some sponsors committed, including the Maryland Historical Trust.

And, Griffin said, he would seek additional help from the mayor's office and state lawmakers.

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