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Laurel Boys and Girls Club postpones charter school plans

Laurel Boys and Girls Club officials have not only decided to put off plans to open a charter high school in their Montgomery Street headquarters indefinitely, but they will not renew the lease of its current tenant, Princeton Day Academy, for next year.

According to club president Levet Brown, the charter school is being delayed because club officials have not been able to raise the money needed to bring the building up to code in order to house a school in the facility.

Brown said Princeton Day, a private high school with about 40 students, was using space in the annex portion of the building free of charge. He said they decided not to renew the school's lease.

"The partnership was not working out well, so we don't want to continue with it and they won't be in our building anymore," Brown said.

Earlier this year, Laurel Police found three Princeton Day Academy students in the club's gym during the early morning hours, and police said they suspected the students had been living in the building. Club officials denied those charges and said the students had permission to use the facility's gym.

The club's building was built in 1899 as Laurel High School. The Laurel Boys and Girls Club owns the building now and Brown said it needs a $1.5 million overhaul to bring it up to regulations. That repair work would include installing a sprinkler system, completing the overhaul of the building's heating and air conditioning system and renovating classrooms on the bottom level of the club.

"The annex is the only part of the building that is up to par and it can only hold 50 to 60 students. We wanted about 300 students initially for the charter school, so we'd have to turn a lot of students down and have a wait list," Brown said. "We didn't want to jump in and fail, so we'll revisit it once we get the building together."

He added that the club was offered a $73,000 Community Development Block Grant but were not able to accept it because they could not raise the required matching funds.

"That was about five months ago. We didn't raise but about $10,000, so we had to say we couldn't take it," Brown said. "We were going to use the money to completely renovate the Phelps Center and the bottom classrooms."

When club officials began working on the charter school plans, they proposed an all-boys program because studies showed boys are more likely to not graduate than girls, or be held back a grade. A five-member Founder's Committee, consisting of educators, was overseeing much of the work for the planned charter high school, and visited the well-known single-sex Urban Prep Academy in Chicago and other similar schools for ideas.

However, after some club members complained, the committee changed the project's plans to include girls, and decided to only have single-sex classes in critical subjects, such as math and science. At the time, they said the revised plan was the reason they pushed the school's opening date back by a year to 2013.

Now, in addition to raising funds for building repairs, Brown said, "We'll have to see if Laurel needs another school and we're hearing it does, especially with the upper grades. Our committee is still working on this. They are still active."

The club's proposed school would be for students in the ninth and 10th grades the first year, and in later years would expand to include higher grades.

Brown is not giving up hope that the charter school will become a reality and said he believes the city task force that is looking into the organization's entire operation will help boost their fundraising efforts and other initiatives when their report is released.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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