Baltimore International College chefs-in-training dished up free barbecue Saturday to neighbors in Little Italy who worry they are on the verge of losing the four-decade-old culinary and hospitality school.
The college learned in June that it would lose its accreditation at the end of August. Its Board of Trustees met Friday to weigh possible mergers or whether to appeal the revocation but has not announced a decision. Meanwhile, the school's nearly 500 students are in limbo.
Still, students spooned helpings of barbecued pulled pork and smoked beef brisket, accompanied by homemade pickled red onions, horseradish and green tomato chow-chow slaw, at a block party in the parking lot of the Culinary Arts Center building on Central Avenue.
"We've had so much support from the community over the past few weeks," said Eric Frauwirth, dean of culinary and culinary management programs. He said he hopes the block party, which he said was in the works before the school learned it was losing its accreditation, "sends a positive message to other institutions" interested a merger.
As their children played in a moon bounce, some Baltimore residents lamented the possibility that the college could shut its doors. Losing its accreditation means the school's students would lose federal financial aid.
"They're excellent neighbors," said Kelly Nowlan, who lives nearby. "It would leave a real void if this was vacant."
"It would be difficult to lease a space like this," added Deborah Puopolo, who lives near the college's downtown headquarters. "It's worth saving. It's a big part of Baltimore."
Students at the block party said they feel welcome in Baltimore and love their school.
"This building — it's home here," said Darae Barnes, a 19-year-old from Richmond, Va., halfway through his associate's degree at the college. "We put our hearts into these kitchens every day."
And when he and other students walk through the streets of Baltimore in their chef's uniforms, "people always smile at us and say hi," he said.
Baltimore International College officials say they've always been community-minded. Students cooked for the EcoBall in March at the Frederick Douglass-Isaac Myers Maritime Park in Fells Point and plan to participate in another event there this October.
Rosalind Ellis Heid can see the Central Avenue campus from her Scarlett Place condominium balcony. She said she has no connection to the college but "was absolutely horrified" to read it were losing accreditation.
"We don't need another big, old empty building in the neighborhood," she said."And we don't need a college closing — especially one that is such a great thing. There are jobs out there in the culinary arts."
In deciding to withdraw accreditation from the college, the Middle States Commission on Higher Education said the school failed to address concerns first raised in a 2007 review. The report said the school has little grasp of how to retain students, measure academic performance or generate revenue from sources other than tuition, among other problems.
Heid said that after reading about the school's plight, she told her husband: "I've got to do something. I will feel better if I have at least tried.'"
For several weeks, she has been circulating a petition to try to revive the school's accreditation, addressed to the Middle States Commission. It reads, in part: "This culinary and hospitality institution is a wonderful neighbor, and its loss would be a devastating blow to our community and to the city of Baltimore in general."
Her one-woman effort has amassed more than 700 signatures.
Heid said she met school President Edgar Schick at the block party and he thanked her for her efforts.
"I said, 'That's what good neighbors do.'"
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