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Tubman Center request among bond bills endorsed by Howard delegation

The county's only high school built for African American students is now used as office space for the school system's maintenance staff.
The county's only high school built for African American students is now used as office space for the school system's maintenance staff. (File photo)

The Howard County delegation voted to support funding requests for six local construction projects totaling $2.3 million Wednesday in its first meeting since the General Assembly convened in Annapolis for the 90-day legislative session.

Among the requests is a proposal to turn the former segregated high school for African-Americans into a community center and museum.

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The Harriet Tubman High School opened in Columbia in 1948 after a long-fought campaign from the black community to have a proper high school building. Black children attended a four-room schoolhouse in Cooksville before it was built.

The 26,000 square-foot red brick building closed in 1965 as Maryland completed its court-ordered integration of schools. For years, Tubman alumni have asked the Howard County Public School System to turn over the building, which has been used as office space for school maintenance staff, so that it can become a cultural center.

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Del. Frank Turner, D-Columbia, is sponsoring this year's request for $500,000 to pay for acquisition, planning, renovation and other improvements at the center.

"I'd like to see this happen before another 24 years pass," he said at a delegation hearing in December.

Also at the hearing, Board of Education member Kirsten Coombs said the board had voted to support handing over the building.

"We look forward to working with the county as it works on creating" an education center, she said.

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Whether the community center will be funded this year is uncertain. The state is facing a $544 million budget deficit, which could mean less money for local projects.

The other bond bill requests the delegation voted to support include:

•$500,000 for the restoration of Carrollton Hall in Ellicott City.

•$300,000 for an HVAC system replacement for the Arc of Howard County.

•$175,000 for a commercial kitchen at the PHILLIPS school in Laurel.

•$333,000 for the creation of a ManneqART Museum and Maryland Fashion Institute.

•$500,000 for flood mitigation projects in the Ellicott City area.

All of the bond bills are matching requests, meaning that the county or institution would have to offer an equal amount of money in order to claim state funds.

The delegation decided to delay voting on a bond bill that asks for $250,000 for the planned Chrysalis Pavilion in Merriweather Park at Symphony Woods.

Legislators also discussed other local bills, including several proposing changes to the way the school board is elected, but delayed votes until future meetings.

Sen. Guy Guzzone, D-Columbia, noted that the 17 bills on the agenda were the most the delegation has ever dealt with in one session.

"We put a chunk of them on the agenda this morning in large part not to pass things out but to have them mentioned, so that people can bring things up," he said.

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