City OKs lease to boarding school

Facility to open in old Southwestern High

October 04, 2007|By John Fritze | John Fritze,Sun reporter

Southwestern High School, a huge former city school campus near Gwynns Falls Park, will become a public boarding school for up to 400 disadvantaged students under a lease agreement approved yesterday by the city's Board of Estimates.

The nonprofit SEED Foundation, which runs a similar school in Washington, hopes to open the Baltimore school with 80 students in 2008. The students, in grades six through 12, will live on campus during the week and receive college preparatory coursework and counseling.

"The goal of this school is to prepare those students for college attendance," said Carol Beck, director of the SEED Foundation's new schools development in Maryland. "They will have a very intensive academic program and a very enriching boarding program."

City school officials listed the building as surplus property in May. Under the terms of the 99-year lease, the SEED School of Maryland will pay $99 initially and then $1 a year to rent the 50-acre property.

City Council President Stephanie C. Rawlings-Blake, who chairs the board, said the city is lucky to have landed the school. She said she hopes SEED officials will accept as many students as possible from Baltimore. The school is not required to give priority to Baltimore students.

"My hope is that some attention can be given to making sure that Baltimore City students that are in need get special attention because I know that it's not in Baltimore by accident," she said.

About 98 percent of SEED graduates in Washington are accepted at four-year colleges, and about 85 percent of them are on track to graduate from college, officials said. In most cases, the students are the first in their immediate families to go to college.

The state's Board of Public Works approved a contract for the school in July.

SEED officials hope to keep the main section of the 350,000- square-foot building, but eventually tear down a large wing. The group also intends to renovate the exterior and reconfigure the interior to serve the smaller boarding school.

Arnold Jolivet, president of the American Minority Contractors and Businesses Association Inc., initially lodged a formal protest of the lease because, he said, the foundation did not seek a minority general contracting firm.

Jolivet later dropped the protest after the parties agreed to meet and discuss the possibility of increasing the involvement of minority firms in the project.

john.fritze@baltsun.com

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