Bowling Brook seeks a solution

Despite debt, officials fight to save the school

March 17, 2007|By Greg Garland | Greg Garland,Sun reporter

Officials with Bowling Brook Preparatory School for juvenile offenders said yesterday they are working to resolve a $1.7 million debt with a local bank and hope eventually to reopen - not sell the property.

The school for juvenile offenders closed under pressure this month as state and federal officials investigate the death Jan. 23 of a youth who was restrained by staff for three hours.

Brian Hayden, Bowling Brook's program manager, said officials are trying to resolve financial issues without selling the 264-acre property in Carroll County.

"There's no dire need to put up a `for sale' sign, or put it up for auction or anything," Hayden said yesterday. "We're working with the bank to try to work it out. The auctioneer is not rolling down the driveway."

Hayden was reacting to a published report about the school's possible sale after a local bank filed court papers claiming that the school's closure earlier this month put it in default of a $1.7 million loan. The Carroll County Times quoted Jennifer C. Munch, president of the Raymond I. Richardson Foundation, as saying it is "very, very possible we will be selling" the property to satisfy the debt to the bank. Bowling Brook is a subsidiary of the foundation.

Munch did not return phone calls yesterday. But Hayden, who said he was designated by the board to speak on the school's behalf, said Bowling Brook is not looking to sell. Community leaders in Carroll County have started a letter-writing campaign to try to persuade Gov. Martin O'Malley and Juvenile Services Secretary Donald W. DeVore to allow the school to reopen.

"There is an optimism in the community that this is going to be temporary," said Thomas D. Welliver, a real estate company executive who is spearheading the campaign.

Hayden told The Sun this week that the foundation's board of directors remains committed to the school's mission of helping put troubled youths on the right path.

"We had a tragic incident, but we also know that we've done a lot of good for a lot of kids over our history," Hayden said.

He said Bowling Brook officials hope to be in a position to reopen the school in six months to a year, but conceded that is far from certain. "Maybe we'll never be able to open, but we are committed to making sure the mission doesn't die," Hayden said.

He acknowledged the school closed March 9 under pressure from the state. "The writing was on the wall," Hayden said. "They told us they were going to revoke our license if we didn't" close down voluntarily.

greg.garland@baltsun.com

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