City school system announces 10-year plan, school closures

Plan identifies 26 school buildings that will close in the next decade

  • Baltimore's Northwestern High School is one of 26 school buildings the city plans to close in the next decade.
Baltimore's Northwestern High School is one of 26 school… (Baltimore Sun photo by Algerina…)
November 27, 2012|Erica L. Green

The Baltimore city school system announced Tuesday the closure of 26 school buildings in the next decade, as part of a large-scale plan to overhaul its dilapidated infrastructure.

The highly anticipated "10-year plan" would also see 136 school buildings replaced or renovated. It also calls for reducing the number of school buildings in the district from 163 to 137 to right-size the district's facilities to its population and increase its utilization rate.

Four schools are recommended for closure at the end of the current school year: Baltimore Rising Star Academy; Garrison Middle; Patapsco Elementary/Middle School; and William C. March Middle School.

The cost of the plan is projected at $2.413 billion, school officials said, which the system will look to finance by lobbying state lawmakers for a steady stream of funding to pay back the construction debts.

The recommendations must be approved the the city school board, which will hold a special meeting Tuesday to further discuss the plan.

"The scale and scope of what we are proposing today is awesome," city schools CEO Andres Alonso said in a statement. "Yet so is the responsibility we as a school district bear each and everyday: to prepare 85,000 kids with incredible potential for a successful future. Our 10-year buildings plan is about living up to that responsibility."

But some Northwesterrn students were upset about the proposal.

“This is the closest school to our zone, so we’re going to have to travel to go to school,” said  junior Trevon Lesane. “This school has good programs to give you a good opportunity to graduate. And we’re about to graduate, so now we’ve got to go to a school where we don’t know anybody and everyone else knows everybody.”

The 10-year plan is how the system has branded its campaign to update the system's school facilities, which are the oldest in the state. In fall 2011, Alonso announced in The Sun that he would need to close several schools that were underused or dilapidated beyond repair.

(A school-by-school analysis of the school system's facility deficiencies, which will help guide the decisions, can be found here.) 

The $1 million "Jacobs Report," commissioned by the district earlier this year, found that it would take $2.5 billion to address Baltimore's facilities needs, confirming the same magnitude of an $2.8 billion problem first discovered and detailed by the ACLU of Maryland in 2010.

When the report was released, 50 schools received a rating that put them in the close-or-rebuild zone.

Led by the ACLU, a group city leaders and organizations have banded together in the last year creating Transform Baltimore, a coalition of advocates who have garnered support to bring better school facilities to Baltimore students.

The school system is planning to lobby state lawmakers in the winter to commit to giving the city millions in the form a "block grant" that will allow the system to borrow billions and address its facilities needs in 10 years.

The 10-year plan comes at the end of a difficult year, where the district's financial management was repeatedly scrutinized. Several city and state leaders have expressed concern that the school system faces an uphill battle after a series of Baltimore Sun investigations -- and a scathing state financial audit -- in the last year uncovered several instances of wasteful or questionable spending of tens of millions of dollars.

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