Annapolis Mayor Alfred A. Hopkins and County Executive Robert R. Neall reached an agreement last week to make an 11th-hour bid to take over renovating the old Wiley H. Bates High School.
The county's top leaders decided to try once more to buy out Baltimore developer Leonard Frenkil, who formed a partnership with the non-profit Bates Foundation that has struggled for a decade to save the boarded-up school. The 16-acre site is scheduled to be handed over to the developer later this month.
Jerome W. Klasmeier, the county's director of central services, hopes to meet with the developer today to negotiate an agreement.
Mr. Frenkil, who wanted to pay for a $1 million asbestos removal project at the school by building 86 town houses on the grounds, offered in June to sell his interest for $740,000. Mr. Hopkins rejected the offer.
"It's pretty clear if we really want the Bates project to move more quickly in the future than it has in the past, the cast of characters has to change," Mr. Klasmeier said.
Once Anne Arundel County's only high school for blacks, the dilapidated brick building has stood empty since 1981.
In January, the Annapolis City Council rejected the zoning change needed for Mr. Frenkil's town house project. Mr. Hopkins and other city leaders then promised to seek alternate government funding to convert the school, which has been damaged by vandalism and fires, into a senior center and senior housing.
If the developer agreed to sell his interest, the city would take over the property and work with the county and non-profit Community Action Agency to develop the senior complex while leaving the grounds untouched, said City Administrator Michael Mallinoff.
Mr. Frenkil said Friday that he's willing to entertain "any fair offer," but added that $740,000 would barely defray the engineering and legal fees spent on the property. He said he recognizes that the city is anxious to preserve the open space, one of the last undeveloped lots in Annapolis.
Environmentalists and neighbors are likely to oppose any plans to build homes on the school grounds.
"The Bates fields have been open space as long as anyone can remember," said state Sen. Gerald Winegrad, D-Annapolis.
"I just don't think this is a good deal. I don't think the opposition has lessened in any way."
County officials have twice delayed asking the state Board of Public Works for approval to transfer the property to the developer.
The transfer would be the final step in the deal with Mr. Frenkil and the Bates Foundation, signed by former County Executive O. James Lighthizer on his last day in office.
Mr. Winegrad said he would lobby against transferring the property to Mr. Frenkil because he believes the developer is "insistent on having 80-some town houses."