Baltimore school officials are proposing to close and sell off as many as four of the city's sprawling high school campuses under plans to be presented today at a pair of public forums.
But officials do not plan to close Western High School or merge it with adjacent Polytechnic Institute, to the relief of parents, students and alumnae who spent much of the fall rallying against any such changes at the nation's oldest all-girls public high school.
Students at high schools targeted for closure would be sent to some of the large middle schools, which are being replaced under previously announced plans to send more children to kindergarten-through-eighth-grade schools.
Plans call for the closure of the Southwestern and Samuel L. Banks high school complexes. It is also possible that the Northwestern and Patterson high school complexes will shut down.
Though most of the schools in those complexes would relocate to middle schools, Samuel L. Banks High would cease to exist once its current students graduate - news that disappointed Kristin Lewis, a junior there.
"I don't feel like they should close my school," she said on learning the news from The Sun last night. "It's not bad. Of course, it could be better," but "over time, it'll be a really good school."
Meanwhile, Anita F. Parton, 60, was eager to spread the word to her fellow Western High alumnae that their alma mater is not in jeopardy.
"I'm unbelievably happy," said Parton, a 1963 graduate who lives in Carroll County and works as a nurse case manager. "I feel a great gratitude toward my high school and how unique our education was."
The proposals are part of a long process to determine how the school system can reduce its operating space by 2.7 million square feet, which is necessary because of declining enrollment, deteriorating buildings and state demands to operate more efficiently.
Last month, the system unveiled plans for its elementary and middle schools. Today, officials will present plans for high schools, asking the community to vote on their preferred options.
To get to this point, "we've gone through a very, very community-driven process," said Eric Letsinger, the system's chief operating officer. He said the high schools have more excess space and are in worse condition than elementary and middle schools.
The high schools have space for from 32,000 to 37,000 students, but only 25,000 students are enrolled, said Robert Pipik, executive director of facilities. Even if the system can increase its high school graduation rate from the current 59 percent to its goal of 94 percent, there will be only 23,000 high school students in 2011 because of low birth rates during the 1990s, Pipik said.
Once all the reconfiguration is complete, the city will have no more zoned high schools, said Alexandra Hughes, assistant to schools Chief Executive Officer Bonnie S. Copeland. Students will be able to apply to citywide high schools, such as Poly, Western and City College, or choose among several small, theme-based schools.
The small high schools initiative is designed to give students more personal attention, as is the move away from middle schools toward K-8 schools, officials said.
The plans call for hundreds of millions of dollars in high school renovations, even though annual state and local dollars for school construction in the city are only a fraction of that.
Below are highlights of the plans for different regions of the city.
In North and Northeast Baltimore:
New Era Academy, now located at Southside Academy, would move across the city to the Lake Clifton-Eastern High School campus.
Lake Clifton, which would undergo a major renovation or be rebuilt entirely, would continue to house Doris Johnson and Heritage high schools. It would also house the students of Samuel L. Banks High until they graduate, at which point that school would cease to exist.
The Academy of College and Career Exploration, now in the Samuel L. Banks complex, would move to Robert Poole Middle School, which is closing.
Western and Poly would be renovated and permitted to admit more students than they do currently.
City College would receive a $62 million renovation.
In South, Southwest and West Baltimore:
Medical Arts Academy, now housed in the Southwestern complex, would move to one of the buildings left vacant by Samuel Coleridge-Taylor Elementary School or Harlem Park Middle School, both of which are slated to close.
Arts Industry Academy would move from Southwestern to the closing Benjamin Franklin Junior High or Southside Academy.
Renaissance Academy, also at Southwestern, would move to Harlem Park Middle or to share space at Edmondson-Westside High, which is not closing.
Maritime Industries Academy, now in a rental building in a strip mall on North Avenue, would return to the Walbrook High School complex, where it was last school year.
Liberal Arts Academy in the Walbrook complex would be phased out.
In Northwest Baltimore: