YWCA building sold for all-girls public middle school

Leadership School paid $1.5 million, plans to begin construction by spring

February 18, 2010|By Edward Gunts | ed.gunts@baltsun.com

Baltimore's YWCA headquarters was sold this week and will reopen in September as the home of Baltimore's first all-girls public middle school, and one of only two public all-girls schools in the city: the Baltimore Leadership School for Young Women.

The nonprofit Foundation for the Baltimore Leadership School for Young Women paid $1.5 million Tuesday to acquire the six-story YWCA building at 128 W. Franklin St. and plans to begin construction by spring to convert the building to its new use.

The Leadership School opened in 2009 with 120 sixth-graders operating out of temporary quarters on the third floor of Western High School, at 4600 Falls Road. It will start on Franklin Street with 220 students in grades six and seven and will add one grade a year so it eventually has 650 young women in grades six through 12.

The YWCA of the Greater Baltimore Area plans to move its administrative offices around the corner to leased space at 505 Park Ave., effective Monday.

Maureen Colburn, executive director of the foundation, said the board selected the YWCA building for several reasons, including its history of serving women, its location near cultural institutions and because it has such amenities as a gymnasium and an auditorium.

"It's a wonderful location for our school," Colburn said. "We looked at other buildings, but once we saw this one, we knew it was right for us."

Designed by architect Joseph Evans Sperry and opened in 1917 as the local headquarters of the Young Women's Christian Association, the building is across Franklin Street from the Enoch Pratt Free Library, blocks from the building where a private group plans this spring to open the Maryland Women's Heritage Center and Museum, and blocks from Baltimore's School for the Arts.

"Finding this building is a dream come true for our school," said Brenda Brown Rever, the foundation's chairwoman. "We are educating our girls to become the leaders of their community, and in this location our students will be surrounded by the finest business, philanthropic and artistic leaders in the city of Baltimore."

Colburn said the foundation is planning to renovate the YWCA building gradually to accommodate the student body as enrollment grows. She said the upper four floors need to be gutted and rebuilt for academic use, but the lower levels need less renovation. A female architect, Shannon Comer of Shannon Comer Architects of Stevenson, is handling the design work.

Baltimore's public schools supported the foundation in the agreement to purchase and renovate the YWCA building.

In 1916, two YWCA women raised the funds to build what was at the time a facility to provide residences and services for working women. The building served as headquarters for the work of the YWCA for the next 93 years, supporting a variety of programs to empower women.

Members of the YWCA's board of directors say they are pleased about the building's future. "It was clear that selling the building was the right thing for the YWCA to do," said Janie Greenwood Harris, YWCA board president. "But the board also felt it was important to preserve and honor the building's extraordinary legacy."

The Baltimore Leadership School for Young Women is a college-preparatory public school for girls. The school boasts a 97 percent attendance rate, and the curriculum emphasizes science, technology and math. Following its name, the school also helps students develop leadership skills.

The school is modeled on the Young Women's Leadership School of East Harlem, a public school in New York City, whose graduates have achieved a 100 percent college acceptance rate since its inception in 1996.

"I am so excited about the new location," said Sylvia Fulwood-Paylor, the parent of a Leadership School student. "The historic significance of the property related to women's history is amazing, a great location, and wonderful opportunity for our girls."

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