More than 30 Baltimore County Arts Guild members and interested community members met outside the Catonsville Elementary School building last week to discuss the guild's intention to take over the century-old school building.
"There's a big opportunity here," said guild president Marilyn Maitland as she spoke to the crowd from the front steps of the school on Frederick Road. "There's a lot that we can do and a lot we have envisioned."
The school will be vacant next spring, when Catonsville Elementary School moves to a new space on Bloomsbury Avenue.
Since the announcement was made in 2014 that the space on Frederick Road would no longer be used, the fate of the old building has been unknown. The guild hopes to convert the building into an arts hub for Baltimore County.
In March, Maitland said, Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz agreed to give the guild one year to raise between $9 and $10 million to put toward necessary renovations and improvements to the building.
So far, the group has raised some money, but is far from its target, Maitland indicated.
Del. Clarence Lam, who represents District 12 that includes Arbutus and Catonsville in the General Assembly, attended the rally to show his support for the group.
"I think there is a lot of interest," he said. "Catonsville Elementary has really been kind of a keystone to Catonsville."
Catonsville resident Jen Menkhaus was also among those who attended the July 16 rally. She was accompanied by her two children, both of whom go to Catonsville Elementary.
Heavily involved in the crafts community, she said, she wanted to see how she could support the guild, which had moved into the Northwest Savings Bank building on Maiden Choice Lane in Arbutus only a few months ago, in its effort to take over the school site on Frederick Road.
"It would be great," she said. "Great for the community, great for the arts."
Ideally, Menkhaus said, she would like to see something like the Howard County Center for the Arts in Catonsville.
The Howard County Arts Council's home is just 15 minutes away from the property the Baltimore guild has its eyes on. Executive Director Coleen West said she and the Howard council have been in touch with the Baltimore County Arts Guild, offering advice and guidance where they can in the hope that Baltimore County may soon have its own arts center.
The Howard County Arts Council's space was relatively easy to acquire, West said. In 1983, a group of arts-minded community members worked out a deal with the county superintendent of schools that allowed them to move into a vacated elementary school in Ellicott City. Even though the building eventually changed hands and is now county-owned, the council's arts center has been there ever since.
One of the things that made the path to acquiring the space in Howard County a little easier, West said, was the fact that the building they proposed to take over was in very good shape.
"We didn't go in and do a whole lot of renovations," she said. "We just moved in and started working."
The group pushing for the building wasn't officially the county arts council yet in 1983, she said.
Howard Country also has a history of being a very strong center for support for the arts, she said, and the group had the strong backing of community members.
"Howard County is very civic-minded and community-minded," West said. "The arts are a priority for them."
While it's still early to tell whether or not the Baltimore guild's quest for the school building will be successful, West said she has her fingers crossed, hoping things will work out to the benefit of the guild.