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Design for Catonsville Elementary School released

A schematic design for the new Catonsville Elementary School to be built at 106 Bloomsbury Ave. was released by Baltimore County Public Schools last week.

The design, created by Rubeling & Associates, a Towson architecture and interior design firm, was presented to the county Board of Education during the building and contracts session of the board's July 8 meeting.

The historic building on Bloomsbury Avenue that now houses the Bloomsbury Community Center will be renovated and expanded by BCPS to accommodate the need for additional seats, as a result of the growing southwest Baltimore County elementary school population. The new building will also offer air-conditioning, something the current Catonsville Elementary School building at 615 Frederick Road lacks.

Baltimore County Public Schools declined to offer exact numbers of the design cost, construction cost and total project cost.

"The final budget for the project is being developed," said Pete Dixit, executive director of Baltimore County Public Schools Department of Physical Facilities, in an email.

Catonsville Elementary School Principal Linda Miller said the new design expands learning opportunities at the school.

"It will definitely be a 21st century learning environment," Miller said. "It provides new opportunities for students — having a TV studio in the building will provide new possibilities."

The school, which currently has a state-rated capacity of 405 students and a total enrollment of 458, will be able to accommodate up to 700 students when it opens in August 2016. According to the project schedule, construction begins May 2015 and lasts until July 2016.

The renovation is part of a county response to overcrowded elementary schools in southwest Baltimore County. In addition to the renovation of the community center site, a new 700-seat school will be built to replace Relay Elementary, another 700-seat school will be built to replace Westowne Elementary and there will be a 200-seat addition to Westchester Elementary.

The history of the community center building dates back to 1925 when it was first built as Catonsville High School. According to Maryland Historical Trust records, the site was known as a "mega-school" for its time. Additions were added to the building in 1930, 1962, 1963 and 1967. By 1962, the school had a capacity of 1,200 seats.

In 1995, the county school board decided to replace the school and the additions were demolished. In 1998, the site was added to the county final landmarks list, which prevents changes to the building without Maryland Historical Trust approval.

On Aug. 22, 1998, it was converted to its current use as the Bloomsbury Community Center.

The center serves as a community focal point, offering a number of Recreation and Parks programs to Catonsville area residents. Although programs will still be offered at other locations, the community center will be gone once it becomes the site of Catonsville Elementary.

Design plans show the current Catonsville Elementary building on Frederick Road consists of 56,600 square feet on a 6.16 acre site. With proposed plans, the school will nearly double in size to 103,000 square feet on an 11.8 acre site.

Changes to the grounds of the building include a separate parental drop-off area from the bus loop, Dixit said. The bus loop will be expanded to accommodate eight buses, Dixit said.

The bus loop at the school's present location can accommodate two buses, according to the design.

"The number and types of fields will remain as-is," Dixit said.

Because of the building's designation as historic, the county was required to seek the approval of the Maryland Historical Trust.

"We did review that and did not have any concerns about the proposed work," said Jonathan Sager, a preservation officer for organization.

The main facade of the building will be repainted and cleaned, and left as-is, said Dixit.

Because the facade is being preserved, there have been some difficulties related to ensuring the entrance to the building is American with Disabilities Act accessible, Dixit said.

There will be some added costs due to the building's age, such as repainting the existing brick and repairing some cast stone, which are being offset by reusing the existing structure, which was "very well built and maintained," said Dixit.

Incorporating mechanical systems and finding space for ductwork and equipment can be a challenge when outfitting an old building like the Bloomsbury center, he said.

"I think they've done a nice job blending the existing building with the new design," Miller said.

A boundary change process for the schools will happen sometime between June 2015 and March 2016, Dixit said in June.

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