Baltimore unveils five renovated school buildings with modern features — and drinkable water

It’s a week of back-to-back celebrations for Baltimore City Public Schools.

Five newly rebuilt or renovated school buildings are being unveiled to the public through Wednesday, a step forward in a district that has dealt with decaying education infrastructure for decades.

The quick succession of ribbon-cutting ceremonies represent years of work and hundreds of millions of dollars spent under the 21st Century School Buildings Program, which will eventually bring as many as 28 modernized school buildings to the city.

The five buildings opening ahead of the new school year are Pimlico Elementary/Middle, Forest Park High, Arundel Elementary/Middle, Cherry Hill Elementary/Middle and the Robert Poole Building, home to the Academy for College and Career Exploration and Independence High.

The $1 billion 21st Century schools initiative was established in 2013 by the Maryland General Assembly in partnership with the city, the Maryland Stadium Authority, the city school system and the state’s Interagency Committee on School Construction. Advocates said the massive investment was necessary because Baltimore is home to the state’s oldest school buildings.

The reality of the district’s aging infrastructure was put in stark relief this winter when roughly half of its 171 schools experienced heating troubles or burst pipes.

City schools CEO Sonja Santelises said at the first of five ribbon-cuttings Monday that the new buildings demonstrate to Baltimore’s students that they deserve the best. The buildings constructed under the 21st Century program are equipped with amenities such as technology labs, media studios and art rooms.

“New spaces communicate to our students what they mean to us,” Santelises said, standing in front of Pimlico.

The buildings are also outfitted with new water filtration systems, meaning children can start drinking from the fountains — something the majority of Baltimore students can’t do because their buildings’ lead-tainted pipes have forced them to rely on bottled water.

"All Baltimore schoolchildren and their teachers deserve to be in modernized buildings,” said Frank Patinella, an education advocate with the ACLU of Maryland.With five schools opening this fall we are taking a major step toward the day when all city students will be able to arrive each morning in schools with sufficient heat, air-conditioning, water fountains from which they can drink, 21st century technology, and playing fields where they can get exercise.”

Mayor Catherine Pugh, City Council President Bernard C. “Jack” Young and other elected officials joined Santelises for Monday’s ribbon-cutting at Pimlico. Students using oversized scissors helped make their school’s opening official.

Earlier this summer, the city broke ground on the next five schools that will undergo renovations or replacements: Arlington Elementary/Middle, John Ruhrah Elementary/Middle, Bay-Brook Elementary/Middle, Calvin G. Rodwell Elementary and the Fairmount-Harford building, which is the future home of the REACH! Partnership School.

The first two schools rebuilt as part of the 21st Century program were unveiled last summer — Fort Worthington Elementary/Middle and Frederick Elementary.

The new school buildings are not just intended to send a positive message to students. The city is working with community partners to improve the areas immediately surrounding the schools, working to uplift large swaths of the city with every new ribbon-cutting or ground-breaking.

“We all know that schools are the hub within any community,” Baltimore Teachers Union president Marietta English said. “The new opportunities that will arise for our students, teachers and support staff, parents and the entire community is endless.”

School begins for most students Sept. 4.

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