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County executive says community uses for Catonsville school building 'on hold'

Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz speaks at a Catonsville community forum, "Coffee with Kevin," on Wednesday.
Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz speaks at a Catonsville community forum, "Coffee with Kevin," on Wednesday. (Libby Solomon/Catonsville Times)

Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz, pressed Wednesday morning for an answer on whether the former Catonsville Elementary School building will be available for community groups to use, said the decision is “on hold.”

“We’re hoping to use the building to share the community aspect we have in this part of the county,” said Char Brooks, who leads a Facebook group called “Friends of the Former Catonsville Elementary” that advocates turning the building into a community center. “Will we be able to use any part of that building?”

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“It’s an open issue,” Kamenetz said. “I wish I had a solution today. I don’t.”

Kamenetz, who is running for governor in next year’s Democratic primary, was in Catonsville for a community discussion forum called “Coffee with Kevin,” the first one in Catonsville since January 2014.

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Roughly two dozen people attended the meeting. Brooks called it “a shame” that there were not more, saying many could not attend because it was held on a weekday morning.

County spokeswoman Ellen Kobler agreed that the time meant most of the attendees were retirees and people with flexible work schedules, saying that the county sometimes holds similar events in the evenings.

Some Catonsville residents have clamored to use the building after Catonsville Elementary School was moved last year from the aging historic building on Frederick Road to the former Bloomsbury Community Center, to accommodate a growing student population.

Groups that used the Bloomsbury center, including the Recreation and Parks council, urged the county to turn the former school into a replacement community center.

Natalie Powell, president of the volunteer Catonsville Recreation and Parks Council, one of the groups hoping to use the space, said after Bloomsbury closed the group has had to rent private space and cut down on programs.

Powell said that the volunteer group has had to close registration for many of their classes early due to lack of space — most of those classes, she said, are children’s classes like ballet or soccer. “Kids will have nothing to do,” she said.

Bonnie Harry, director of Catonsville Emergency Assistance, which provides help with food, utilities and preventing evictions, said her organization would like to use the old school to expand their food bank.

“We’re in a very small building,” she said. “If we had extra space for food storage, we could serve more people in the community.”

Kamenetz praised the Recreation and Parks Council and organizations like it as examples of citizen-based volunteerism in Catonsville, saying: “We know you still have a need."

The county executive said the community center idea is on hold because of budget considerations — a report last year estimated that fully renovating the building would cost $19 million.

“Right now all the money is in the school construction budget,” Kamenetz said.

The school system, which owns the building, is doing a less comprehensive renovation for less than $19 million to turn the building into administrative office space, school spokesperson Mychael Dickerson said last month.

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