In the latest chapter of the decade-long struggle to preserve Wiley H. Bates High School, Annapolis and county officials are working on a plan to pay for the renovations without developing the grounds.
But the ball is in the court of Baltimore developer Leonard Frenkil.
The county wants to know whether Frenkil would agree to be bought out of a contract to rehabilitate the old school in exchange for rights to the 15-acre site. He had proposed building 86 town houses on the grounds and using $1 million from the proceeds to convert the asbestos-riddled building into a senior center. But the Annapolis City Council killed the project in late January.
This week, under pressure from Bates supporters, Mayor Alfred A. Hopkins broke six months of silence on the project and disclosed efforts he's made to cull federal and state money to renovate the school.
The mayor met privately with Alderman Samuel Gilmer, D-Ward 3, and several Bates supporters Tuesday to discuss the financial arrangements needed to turn the school into a community center and senior housing. Hopkins said he's enlisted enough support
to put a financial package together
involving the city, state and federal government, though he didn't pledge a specific amount.
Frenkil said he wants to stay involved in the Bates project. But the developer also said, "If the only way the project can go ahead is some other configuration, we're certainly not going to slam the door on it.
"We don't want to be a spoiler," said Frenkil, explaining that while he has four years of work at stake, he's a firm believer in the project.
Closed 26 years ago when Anne Arundel County finished integrating its schools, the once all-black Bates High School is a local landmark.
Neighborhood leaders have been trying for years to preserve the brick school as a community and senior center. But many objected to having so many town houses built on the grounds, city officials said.
"The mayor walked around and knocked on the doors of 51 homes, and I think 50 and a half said they didn't want those town houses," said City Administrator Michael Mallinoff.
The final decision rests in the hands of the state's Board of Public Works, which handles transferring land titles.
Meanwhile, the county is awaiting an answer within the next two weeks from Frenkil, said Jerome W. Klasmeier, director of central services.