Closed school to house elderly

Bates center will include 5 community service sites


For half a century, the hallways of the Wiley H. Bates school rang with the laughter and eager footsteps of teenagers. Now, after standing empty for 25 years, the pebble-patterned floors will sound with footsteps once again. But the new residents might walk a little slower.

The construction project that is transforming the historically African-American high school into five community service sites is nearly complete, and county seniors will be able to move into apartments at the Wiley H. Bates Heritage Park in May, said apartment manager Shenae Bradley, who is accepting applications.

Grand opening ceremonies for the center, which is named after one of the city's first black aldermen, will be held in September, when the Boys and Girls Club, senior center, museum and ball fields are opened to the public, said Kathleen M. Koch, executive director of Arundel Community Development Services, a nonprofit agency that is supervising the renovation.

Bates, a former slave who established a thriving store in Annapolis in the late 1800s, stipulated in his will that he wanted to create housing for the elderly, Koch said. In the 1930s, Bates donated $500 to purchase the land at Smithville Street and South Villa Avenue where the county opened Wiley H. Bates High School.

Until 1966, when the county desegregated its public schools, only African-American students attended Bates. A small museum in the complex will highlight Bates' contributions to the community and showcase the history of the school.

The school closed its doors in 1981 and was abandoned for decades as city and county officials debated plans for the space. In 1999, Koch's organization began the costly and environmentally sensitive task of replacing the school's leaking roof, stabilizing the structure and removing asbestos and lead paint.

Although this initial phase was completed in 2000, construction did not resume until January 2005 as the community development group considered bids from contractors and sought funding.

The estimated cost for the project is $26.2 million, Koch said, with more than $13 million going to the construction of senior housing.

The walls of brick and glazed beige tile, large windows and terrazzo floors will be familiar to those who walked the halls as students decades ago. Workers have restored or duplicated many of the features of the school, said Joe Chonoski, project superintendent for Hamel Construction, the company that is renovating the section that will be used for senior housing.

In the model apartment, light streams through soaring windows. High ceilings and recessed lighting make the one-bedroom apartment feel spacious. The kitchen features a built-in microwave, new appliances and ample cabinet space. Seniors' needs are reflected in the building's details, such as emergency pull cords in the bathrooms. Fourteen of the apartments were designed for seniors with disabilities, Bradley said.

County residents who are 62 or older and who earn less than $25,250, or senior couples who earn less than $25,850, are eligible to live in the apartments, Bradley said. Rents will be on a sliding scale. Residents who pass credit and background checks and are accepted to Bates will enjoy perks such as a beauty salon, computer center and health suite.

They also will have easy access to the Annapolis Senior Center's new location. The senior center will feature exercise rooms, a medical suite, classrooms, a stage and a ceramics studio with kilns, said Trish McGarty, an official with the Department of Aging. County residents older than 55 can eat a hot lunch in the dining area or check their e-mail in the computer lab. The center will feature a billiards room in an effort to attract men, McGarty said.

McGarty, who has supervised the construction of county senior centers since 1979, said that the Bates site will be the largest senior center in the county. It will replace the current location in Eastport, McGarty said.

Young people also will benefit from the convenient location of the senior center, said Reggie Broddie, an official with the Boys and Girls Clubs of Annapolis and Anne Arundel County. Broddie says the new club, the county's fifth Boys and Girls Club location, will foster intergenerational relationships. He hopes to start a tennis league for seniors and kids to play as doubles partners.

"I envision having seniors working as mentors," Broddie said.

Programs at the Boys and Girls Club should be running by Oct. 1, Broddie said. The club will feature a computer lab, library, theater, dance performance space, game room and gymnasium, Broddie said. An area for older teenagers will include a recording studio, snack bar and a retail space for teens to learn business skills. And at 26,000 square feet, the new club space will be more than three times larger than the existing Annapolis-Bywater Boys and Girls Club.

The club has raised $3.1 million toward its $4 million goal, Broddie said. This month, Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. announced that the state Board of Public Works had approved a $750,000 grant for the renovation project. Contributors such as Chaney Enterprises, private donors Katherine and Jim Manderen and board members also have made substantial gifts.

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