Old Catonsville Elementary School to get "new life" as administrative building as county solidifies plans

The old Catonsville Elementary School, the longtime object of a tug-of-war between the school system and residents who want to use it as a community center, will be used to house storage facilities, offices and a training computer lab, the school system said.

“Beginning in 2018, the old school will have a new life as the Catonsville Administration Building,” said a Jan. 2 newsletter from Baltimore County Public Schools’ business services department.

The school system previously announced in September that it would be using the building for administrative offices, a decision that drew ire from community members who would like to see it become a multipurpose community center.

In September, however, school system spokesman Mychael Dickerson said it was “too soon” to say exactly how the building would be used.

The debate took shape in 2016 after Catonsville Elementary School moved out of the century-old building and took over the nearby remodeled Bloomsbury Community Center, displacing community groups that used that space.

Resident Char Brooks argues that although the school system’s uses of the building make sense, community arts programs and nonprofits should also be allowed to use or rent parts of the “pretty big” building.

“Yeah, they have a right to use it,” Brooks said of the school system, “but in the meantime, our community has the right to share our tax dollars we’ve spent over many years to support the schools.

“We have programs run by nonprofits that are very hand-in-glove with what the school system’s mission is,” Brooks added.

The January newsletter named multiple uses, both current and future, for the administrative space, which is in the midst of a renovation.

The information technology and facilities management departments are already using the space to store school system vehicles, equipment and supplies used for maintenance, the newsletter said.

That use will cut down on the time it takes to fulfill maintenance requests at schools in the southwest area by reducing travel time between the schools and storage units, communications administrative assistant Dolores Pierorazio said in an email.

Baltimore County Parks and Recreation also currently has access to storage rooms and outside fields, Pierorazio said.

In the future, the newsletter said, the building will be used to house the Office of e-Learning, which coordinates online distance learning. The department is currently housed in the “severely overcrowded” Home and Hospital Center building on Falls Road, Pierorazio said.

The building also will house the southwest area’s Child Find Services Office, which identifies students in need of special education services. That office is currently in a building on Rolling Road which is “in need of renovations,” Pierorazio said.

The school system also plans to construct a computer lab in the building, the newsletter said.

Pierorazio said that the lab will be used as a training space for school system employees, comparable to a space at the Kenwood Administrative Building in Essex.

“This site will reduce travel time for participants in professional learning,” Pierorazio said.

The newsletter touted the building as a part of the school system’s “Continuity of Operations” plan for restoring services after a disaster.

The computer lab and furniture kept in storage rooms could be used in the event of an emergency, Pierorazio said.

There is not a final estimate available for the cost of the renovations, facilities management director Pete Dixit said.

In September, Dickerson said that the system could not provide a cost estimate for the renovation as it is not complete and is being funded from the facilities budget, rather than as a line-item in the school system’s budget.

A 2016 report by architecture firm Manns Woodward Studios estimated the cost of renovating and bringing the building up to code at $19 million. Dickerson said in September that the renovation will cost significantly less than that.

The school system plans to request approval to move people into the building by the end of this school year, Pierorazo said.

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