Positive feedback on 10-year schools plan

Waverly Elementary/Middle School Principal Michelle Ferris shows the design drawings for a $25 million replacement school in June, when ground was broken for the project. (File photo / May 22, 2012)

The Baltimore City public school system is considering building a $28 million high school in Hampden as part of a 10-year, $2.4 billion plan to modernize city schools and infrastructure.

The proposed school would be built in 2014-15, the first year of the plan, and would house both the Academy for College and Career Exploration, known as ACCE, and Independence School Local I High School, a public charter school. The two programs are currently located close together. ACCE is located in the old Robert Poole Middle School at 1300 W. 36th St., and Independence School at 1250 W. 36th St.

According to a school system Facilities Condition Index report, which compares the costs of renovation to replacement, the student utilization rate for ACCE would rise from 54.4 percent now to at least 75 percent and as high as 90 percent.

"The FCI suggests that renovation or replacement (of ACCE) should both be considered, and that replacement may be the more cost-effective option," the report states.

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The school system hopes to modernize its schools citywide, but also downsize from 163 to 137 campuses to reflect a declining enrollment and reduce projected capacity from 121,300 students now to about 105,000 students in 10 years, school officials said. In all, 87 buildings would be renovated, 49 would be renovated or replaced, 12 would be relocated and 17 would be closed.

Another 26 school system facilities would be vacated under the plan.

Nothing could be done without the city first doing a state-required feasibility study, said Laura Kiesler, specialist in the school system's Office of New Initiatives.

The school board ill take a final vote on the 10-year plan Jan. 8. If it is approved, the next step would be for the Maryland legislature and City Council to find a way to fund the massive undertaking.

ACCE leads a long list of north Baltimore schools that would be renovated or replaced under the plan, although some would have to wait a long time for the recommended work to be done.

• Hampden Elementary/Middle, which took in students from the old Poole Middle, wouldn't be renovated until year 9 of the plan, whereas Medfield Heights Elementary would be renovated with a possible addition or replaced in year 2.

Baltimore City College High School would be renovated in year 4 of the plan, and nearby Abbottston Elementary in the Waverly area would be renovated in year 10.

Baltimore Polytechnic Institute at Falls Road and West Cold Spring Lane, where the city school board held a public forum Wednesday, Dec. 19, on the 10-year plan, would be renovated or replaced — and possibly reduced in size — in year 5 of the plan.

• In Charles Village, Barclay Elementary/Middle School would be renovated in year 9, Dallas F. Nicholas Sr. Elementary would be renovated in year 8, and Margaret Brent Elementary/Middle would be renovated in year 6.

• In the Mount Washington area, Cross Country Elementary/Middle School would be renovated or replaced in year 2, and the Mount Washington School would be renovated with a possible addition in year 5. The Mount Washington School opened this year in two separate buildings a block apart; the original school on Sulgrave Avenue and the old Shrine of the Sacred Heart Catholic School.

• Nearby Pimlico Elementary/Middle School would be renovated in year 1 of the plan.

• Along the York Road corridor, Govans Elementary would be renovated with a possible addition or replaced in year 2, and Walter P. Carter Elementary/Middle would be renovated in year 2. Leith Walk Elementary's renovation is already in progress. Guilford Elementary/Middle would be renovated with a possible addition in year 8.

Roland Park Elementary/Middle would be renovated in year 6.

• The much-publicized replacement of Waverly Elementary/Middle School is in progress.

The 10-year plan generally received high marks at the forum, the first of several that are planned by the school board. Most speakers generally praised the plan as visionary and long overdue, although some lobbied the board to leave alone schools that were slated to be reduced in size or closed, and to move others up to earlier years in the 10-year schedule.

For some supporters of the plan, the $25 million replacement of Waverly Elementary/Middle that began in June, with Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake and schools CEO Andres Alonso in attendance for the groundbreaking, is a beacon for better things to come.

Karen DeCamp, director of neighborhood programs for the Greater Homewood Community Corp., based in Charles Village, said the 10-year plan is a holistic way to address aging school buildings.

"We worked really hard to get Waverly," DeCamp told the Messenger before the forum started. "But we can't go project by project. We need a new approach. You can't do this one school at a time."

DeCamp told the school board later, "We need a big plan. We need an innovative way to fund it. And we need the public will to get it done."