A nascent community campaign to save the old Catonsville Elementary School from the wrecking ball gained momentum Tuesday night as more than 100 people packed a meeting room at the Catonsville branch library to suggest ideas for using the mothballed building.
The county is considering razing the Frederick Road building, which opened in 1910 and closed last year, and replacing it with a community center building and a small park for an estimated $3.6 million after a consultant's report said preservation renovations could top $19 million.
The two-hour meeting was called by Friends of the Former Catonsville Elementary School, a grassroots group pushing to preserve the building.
"It was a bonanza," said its leader, Char Brooks, after the meeting. "I am thrilled we had such a good turnout but now the work starts."
Supporters of saving the space say they would like to have the 57,692-square foot building serve multiple community organizations.
Lisa Vicari, a 74-year-old retired teacher, has lived in Catonsville since 1977. She supports preserving the building in what she called a history-minded community.
"It's a lovely building," she said. "It has meaning to the people of the community and I think the whole idea of multiple use with many different community groups getting to know each other, I think, is great."
Leaders from community organizations, including Catonsville Emergency Assistance and the Catonsville Cooperative Market, expressed desire for being a part of a possible multiple use project.
The board of Catonsville Emergency Assistance, a nonprofit which focuses on emergency food, eviction prevention, and utility cut-off intervention services, recently voted that it would like to move to the preserved building, should an opportunity arise, according to its vice president, Dave Asendorf.
"We can really serve the community better if we had a modern space," he said.
Catonsville Recreation and Parks Council President Saundra Owens said the group, which operates a variety of recreation programs and activities, would like to move to the building.
The rec council had been at the Bloomsbury Community Center before it was remodeled for the new Catonsville Elementary School. The council now uses Banneker Community Center, which does not have space for some of its programming, including indoor soccer.
"How you put this building together is really important to us," she said. "We need the space for our kids."
County Councilman Tom Quirk, local architects and representatives of community organizations discussed the building's potential during the meeting.
Quirk, a Democrat whose district includes Catonsville, said the idea of saving the building is shared by about 70 percent of the community.
The county plans to host a meeting in January when planners and officials will share their thoughts on the space, he said.
"There's no desire to rush or do anything quick on this," he said.
Eli Northen, a Baltimore-based architect who lives in Catonsville, said the community needs to evaluate its needs for the space.
"If we can put the building blocks together of program elements that tell us we need 40,000 square feet worth of community space, then I think it's a pretty easy sell," he said. "If we just stamp our feet and say we like the building, don't tear it down, that's kind of a dead end."