Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake and school system CEO Andres Alonso broke ceremonial ground Tuesday, June 5, on the excavation site at Ellerslie Avenue and East 33rd Street where a $25 million replacement school for Waverly Elementary/Middle is slated to open in 2014.
The new school is the first one being built from scratch in Baltimore Ciity since 1998, and is the result of heavy lobbying in the past decade by City Councilwoman Mary Pat Clarke, the Greater Homewood Community Corp., the American Civil Liberties Union, the Episcopal Cathedral of the Incarnation near Charles Village and 43rd District state legislators.
"It is a day of celebration that finally, this community is getting what they are so deserving of, a new school building," Principal Michelle Ferris told the audience of 100 Waverly school children, elected officials and community leaders during an hour-long press conference.
"This clearly is the culmination of a community-wide effort," Alonso said.
Alonso recalled Clarke telling him when he first came on the job in July 2007, "You don't know us, but we need a new school."
School system and city officials as well as community and religious leaders see the new construction in Waverly as the beginning of a long-overdue construction boom for city schools.
Rawlings-Blake said her goal of adding 10,000 new families in Baltimore over the next 10 years depends in large part on "better schools."
The Very Rev. Hal Ley Hayek, dean of the Cathedral of the Incarnation, called the new school in Waverly "a down payment on the $2.8 billion we need," for new school construction citywide.
A large contingent of students were in the audience, and several students said in short speeches that they are excited about getting a new, state-of-the-art school
"We'll have bigger classrooms and even bigger bathrooms," said fourth-grader Cory Carter.
Alonso said he would try to attract Oakenshawe students to the new school. Although Oakenshawe lies within the school's zone, no students from Oakenshawe attend the school. Alonso added, "I think it takes time. We're here for the long run."
In several iterations, the Waverly school has survived aging buildings, lack of resources and racial segregation. At one time, the old School No. 115 was ranked as the worst "colored school" in the city, said Joan Stanne, a local historian and community/school volunteer.
Lou Franz has lived long enough to see ground broken on a brand new school.
"We need it," said Franz, 86, of Tuscany-Canterbury, a former popular Waverly school principal and teacher, who retired in 1989 after 12 years as principal. He stood in the audience, surrounded by children, until school board member Bob Heck brought him a chair. He also participated in the ceremonial shoveling of dirt.
"We really need something for this community," Franz said.