Roughly Speaking: Police and protests, Monday's debate, and 'Drunk History'
Catonsville

New Catonsville Elementary School to be completed August 2016

As part of a plan to alleviate overcrowding in southwestern Baltimore County public schools, Catonsville Elementary School will move from its current location on Frederick Road to the Bloomsbury Community Center on Bloomsbury Avenue.

Earlier this month, the county released a timeline on when area residents can expect the move to take place.

A community input meeting is scheduled for July 15 at Catonsville High School.

The schematic design is to be presented to the Board of Education at during its July 8 meeting, which begins at 7 p.m.

The new building will be "nothing like the old Catonsville Elementary building", said Pete Dixit, executive director of Baltimore County Public Schools (BCPS) Department of Physical Facilities.

The new school will be larger, with space to accommodate 700 students. The Frederick Road school is currently over state capacity, with 458 students in a school with an maximum enrollment of 405. It will also have air-conditioning, something the current building , built in 1910, lacks.

In addition to the new 700-seat school in what is now the Bloomsbury Community Center, there will be a 700-seat new elementary school constructed on the site of Westowne Elementary, a new, 700-seat school will be built as a replacement of Relay Elementary and a 200-seat addition is scheduled to be added to Westchester Elementary.

A tentative opening of the four schools is scheduled for August 2016, a BCPS timeline said.

A boundary change process for the schools will happen between June 2015 and March 2016 with community input, Dixit said.

The building that houses the community center at 106 Bloomsbury Avenue was built in 1925 as a high school to accommodate a growing population, according to Maryland Historical Trust documents. Additions were added in 1930 and 1962, and the building was used as a high school until 1954 when it became Catonsville Junior High School.

The building was used as a middle school until February 1987. But after Catonsville Middle School opened on the site of what had been Westchester Elementary School, the building began to decline. The Baltimore County School Board hoped to demolish the building in 1995, after it had fallen into disrepair.

"They wanted to tear it down and there was a big upheaval," said Catonsville resident Joan Bender, a member of the Catonsville Historical Society. "I almost wish they would make up their mind."

Residents who voiced their opposition to the plan wanted the Bloomsbury Avenue building converted back into a middle school and the current Catonsville Middle School building converted to an elementary school, which would have solved overcrowding, said Berchie Manley,

who represented the 1st District on the Baltimore County Council from 1990 to 1994.

Manley said she recalls when the former Baltimore County Executive C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger razed the wings of the building at 106 Bloomsbury Avenue.

"That's where the mistake was made," Manley said. "We could have saved millions of dollars if we had listened to the citizens about turning it into a middle school.

"The planning was political, instead of looking at reality and planning for reality. Now that we're here at this point in time, there is certainly the need for the elementary schools," Manley said.

Instead, the building was converted into a community center in 1998, when the north and south wings of the building were removed

The building's designation as a registered historic landmark means the county school system must work closely with the Maryland Historical Trust and follow its construction guidelines, Dixit said.

"We cannot do anything without their approval," Dixit said.

The new school will be a complete renovation of the current center, with a new HVAC system, new pipes and plumbing and will be outfitted with wireless access to the Internet for "21st century learning," Dixit said.

Jonathan Sager, preservation officer with the Maryland Historic Trust, said the organization has yet to review the design for the Bloomsbury center, but said he does not anticipate any "complicated design issues.

"It is my understanding that this is not a complicated project, in terms of meeting historic guidelines," Sager said.

Construction is projected to cost between $20 and $22 million, Dixit said.

"It may be more, it may be less, depending on how things proceed," Dixit said.

Dixit said the project is scheduled for completion in August 2016.

 

"We will do everything we can to finish on time, and we want the project to be finished on time to meet our goals," Dixit said. "From our side, we have no reason not to complete it on time.

"But there are always unknowns in construction," Dixit said.

Once the bid contract is awarded for construction, which is scheduled for February 5, 2015, according to a timeline released by BCPS, the process to move programs will begin, Dixit said.

A design for the new Catonsville Elementary School is still in the process of development, Dixit said.

"Right now, the question is: do we keep the Catonsville Elementary School the way it is and convert it for use as a community center or demolish the building and build a new community center?," said First District Councilman Tom Quirk.

Manley, who has been dedicated to the preservation of Catonsville, said she hopes the historic building, will be preserved.

Although the building is not on the Baltimore County Landmarks List, it is part of the Maryland Historical Trust Inventory of Historic Properties.

"It certainly needs to be preserved and utilized, not razed. If they raze it, they're destroying Catonsville's history," Manley said.

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