Board to vote on plan for school

Magna wants to convert Park Heights Elementary into a job training center

December 17, 2003|By Tom Pelton | Tom Pelton,SUN STAFF

A Canadian auto parts manufacturer whose chairman also runs a company that is majority owner of Pimlico racetrack is proposing to build a $5.2 million job training center in a vacant elementary school in Northwest Baltimore.

Frank Stronach, chairman of auto parts company Magna International Inc., and a separate racetrack company, Magna Entertainment Inc., is proposing to convert Park Heights Elementary School at 4910 Park Heights Ave. into a center to train people for manufacturing and construction jobs, according to city records.

The city's five-member financial oversight panel, the Board of Estimates, is scheduled to vote this morning on a $10-per-year lease for the school that would last until 2014, allowing the Magna Baltimore Technical Training Center to renovate and use the city-owned building.

Stronach's proposal, which some in the city interpret as a goodwill gesture toward the neighborhood, comes at a time when his racetrack company is also asking the City Council for approval to expand Pimlico and allow slot machines, if the state also agrees to them.

"This is part of their demonstration of commitment to the city," said Dominick Murray, special assistant for economic development to Mayor Martin O'Malley.

City Council Vice President Stephanie Rawlings Blake, who represents the district, said the neighborhood would benefit from having the shuttered school return to life.

"Seeing a vacant school in a neighborhood doesn't give you a sense of hope. But seeing a thriving institution that promotes self-improvement gives the community hope for the future," she said.

Paul Myles, general manager of the school project, said the proposal has no connection to the nearby racetrack expansion, which is under the authority of Magna Entertainment.

Myles said the center would train about 100 people a year -- including teen-agers and ex-convicts -- how to become tool-and-die manufacturers and hold other jobs such as drywalling and plumbing.

Magna International owns an auto parts plant in Westminster that needs trained employees, and it also works with tool-and-die subcontractors in Baltimore that produce stamped metal products for Magna's factories.

Training workers for these jobs would help the company and the community, Myles said.

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