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Catonsville Elementary could become new community center

What's next for Catonsville's community center?

By Lauren Loricchio, lloricchio@tribune.com

8:19 AM EST, February 11, 2014

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The Baltimore County School Board's plan to turn Catonsville's community center located at 106 Bloomsbury Avenue into an elementary school has left residents wondering if they will still have a community center.

Saundra Owens, president of the Catonsville Parks and Recreation Council, expressed concern about what will happen to Catonsville's community center after a public forum held by Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz on Friday, Jan. 31 at the Bloomsbury Community Center.

"[Parks and receation programs] are major in this community," Owens said after the meeting.

At the meeting, Kamenetz said he is committed to continuing a community center presence in Catonsville.

The plan is being considered as a solution to the growing student enrollment and lack of air conditioning in Catonsville schools.

This won't be the first time that southwest Baltimore County expands the school system to accomodate population growth.

The building located at 106 Bloomsbury Avenue was built in 1925 to accomodate a growing population and was used as a high school, according to Maryland Historical Trust documents.

Historical trust documents show additions were added to the school in 1930 and 1962 to add space. The building was used as a high school until 1954, when it became Catonsville Junior High School, documents said.

In July 1995, the Baltimore County School Board hoped to demolish the building, which had fallen into disrepair, according to the documents. But the building was declared a historical landmark and, in 1998, was turned into the Bloomsbury Community Center.

At the public forum hosted by Kamenetz at Bloomsbury Community Center last month, Catonsville resident Jim Himel, a member of the Catonsville Community Conservation Association, brought up the idea of turning Catonsville Elementary School on Frederick Road into a community center.

At the meeting, Kamenetz said the idea is worthy of discussion but added, "maybe the better model is to construct a brand new community center on those grounds."

Kamenetz said there is a School Board plan to build a new 700-seat school on the grounds of Westowne Elementary School, build a new elementary school in Relay and turn Bloomsbury Community Center into an elementary school.

The county plans to close Catonsville Elementary and Westowne Elementary schools and add additional seats to Westchester Elementary, Kamenetz said.

Himel later said he would like to see the Catonsville Elementary School building kept in place and updated. The current building at 615 Frederick Road lacks air-conditioning and would need to be converted from an elementary school into a community center, but the upside is that it has recreation fields, Himel said.

However, renovating the old building, could be expensive.

"I think it is a reasonable idea, as long as the county brings the money to the table that will be needed to do the renovation of that building so that it is adequate to be used as a community center," Himel said.

"Being that it's on the main street of Catonsville and that it's such a gorgeous historic building, the priority should be using it as a public space," Himel said.

Himel said although the building hasn't been designated as a historic building, he believes the facade of the building is worth preserving. The building is in a central location in Catonsville, making it ideal for a community center, Himel said.

"It's very important that we keep a community center in the heart of Catonsville," said First District Councilman Tom Quirk, on Sunday, Feb. 9.

While officials say they want to keep a community center in Catonsville, no plan has been determined so far.

"There's no definitive plan yet," Quirk said. "The building itself is about 109 years old...It would take a fair amount of money to turn the building into a community center," he said.

Maggie Schorr, a member of the executive board of the Catonsville Parks and Recreation Council, said while she laments that the Bloomsbury Community Center will be turned into an elementary school, she thinks the Catonsville Elementary School building would be a good site for a community center.

"I think there should be a place where people in Catonsville can come together," Schorr said Feb. 7.

She envisions a new community center being outfitted with an excercise room, a rock climbing wall, a dog park and an art center.

Schorr remains optimistic that Baltimore County could fund improvements to Catonsville Elementary in order to turn the building into a usable community center.

"I'm sure there's money to be found," Schorr said. "It's a beautiful building and I don't want to see it torn down."