In a tense meeting, Annapolis Mayor Alfred A. Hopkins pledged yesterday to back a non-profit organization that has been struggling for a decade to save the old Wiley H. Bates High School.
Mr. Hopkins told Jean Creek, president of the Bates Foundation and head of the county branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, that he would support developing the school grounds. He also promised money to convert part of the building into a senior center but cautioned that the county might not approve the project.
The boarded-up brick building, once home to the county's only public high school for blacks, has stood empty since 1981.
Mr. Hopkins and other city leaders agreed in January to seek alternate government funding when the council rejected a plan to pay for asbestos removal by developing 86 town houses on the school grounds.
Yesterday, the mayor repeatedly tried to reassure Ms. Creek that he had kept his promise.
He told her he had met with Gov. William Donald Schaefer and County Executive Robert R. Neall and compiled a list of possible grants. But, he warned, building a senior center at Bates hinges on county approval and much is in the hands of the developer.
Leonard Frenkil, the Baltimore builder who formed a partnership with the Bates Foundation and proposed the town house project, offered in June to sell his interest to the city for $740,000. Mr. Hopkins turned down the offer.
Although the aldermen joined Ms. Creek in supporting the mayor's decision, they echoed her complaints that they had not been told about it earlier.
During yesterday's stormy meeting, Ms. Creek questioned Mr. Hopkins' efforts, telling him, "You have produced nothing."
Alderman Samuel Gilmer, D-Ward 3, who attended the meeting, said he was optimistic the city could become a partner with the Bates Foundation. He also asked Gaetan A. Caiazzo, a representative for the developer, whether Mr. Frenkil would drop his price. Mr. Caiazzo promised to take the message to Mr. Frenkil.
The county is in favor of opening a senior center at Bates but fears the project will be tied up for years, said Louise Hayman, Mr. Neall's spokeswoman.
"We're not ruling it out," she said, "but it just doesn't seem on the fast track."