Extra costs could delay renovations for city's most dilapidated schools

  • Lake Clifton High School is pictured in this file photo.
Lake Clifton High School is pictured in this file photo. (John Makely, Baltimore…)
September 23, 2014|Colin Campbell | The Baltimore Sun

When Baltimore city schools and the Maryland Stadium Authority adopted a plan to update the city's aging school buildings in January 2013, they hoped to rebuild or restore 30 to 35 schools in the first phase of renovations.

But studies to identify the schools' needs determined that the $977 million in bond funding the system expects to receive would cover only 23 to 28 schools.

The city school commissioners at their board meeting Tuesday night reviewed a hotly contested recommendation to defer renovations to some of Baltimore's most dilapidated schools because they would be the costliest to renovate.

Other measures proposed by the school system and the stadium authority included increasing utilization rates to 90 percent, reconfiguring grade levels at one school and doing "strategic modernizations" where possible to create more flexible space.

Putting off the more expensive projects at Lake Clifton and Vivien T. Thomas Medical Arts Academy would free up money for renovations at more schools, said Alison Perkins-Cohen, executive director of the school system's Office of New Initiatives, and Gary McGuigan, project manager at the stadium authority.

If the recommendations are adopted, the 11 schools still set to be renovated by August 2018 would be Arlington, Forest Park, Frederick, Fort Worthington, John Eager Howard, Lyndhurst, Patterson, Pimlico, Robert Poole Building/ACCE/Independence, and the Arundel and Cherry Hill sites of Cherry Hill schools. Arlington would be reconfigured to an elementary school from an elementary-middle school.

Fort Worthington Elementary School in the Berea neighborhood and Frederick Elementary School in Millhill are in the design phase and are expected to open in the 2017-2018 school year.

Representatives of Lake Clifton alumni and neighborhood residents excoriated the proposal and the school board for considering it, saying the reason the building — which houses Lake Clifton High School, Reach and Claremont — would be so expensive is because it is desperately in need of updates.

Mark Washington and Richard McCoy of the Lake Clifton Alumni Association said they worried that the school's needs would continue to be ignored. They said they had been assured when new schools CEO Gregory Thornton was appointed that the Lake Clifton renovations would remain a priority.

"This is a stunning reversal of fortune for this community," McCoy said. "I asked specifically about it."

Thornton replied that it had been planned for the first phase of renovations before cost analyses had been done.

State Sen. Joan Carter Conway, who represents the 43rd District, appeared at the meeting to express concerns she'd heard from her constituents about the proposal to delay renovations on Lake Clifton. She opened the public comment portion of the board meeting by asking whether the commissioners planned to vote on the measure, or whether they were just hearing it out.

They replied that they were only reviewing the recommendations. A vote will take place by the board's next meeting on Oct. 14, said Keith Scroggins, the system's chief operation officer. The stadium authority, city schools and the city will present an update to the legislature on their progress Oct. 1.

The renovations will include piping for cleaner drinking water, better HVAC systems, safer wiring, adequate lighting, better energy efficiency and modern security features, as well as provide spaces for community use, the school system said in a release.

cmcampbell@baltsun.com

twitter.com/cmcampbell6

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