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Catonsville Middle to be replaced


Despite persistent public opposition, Baltimore County's school board last night stood by its plan to tear down the old Catonsville Middle School on Bloomsbury Avenue and replace it with a Southwest Area Elementary School.

By unanimously approving a two-year priority list of construction projects, as well as the 1997 capital budget, the board in effect shunned the old school without ever mentioning it in its public session.

Board members had plenty to say, however, during an earlier work session with the building committee.

They heard an architectural firm's report supporting the school system's renovation estimates, which Catonsville residents had alleged were inflated to defeat the project. The firm, Rubeling & Associates of Towson, concluded that it would cost $11.9 million to renovate the 70-year-old building that has housed Catonsville junior and senior high schools and a number of community programs since it closed as a school in 1987.

The school system has said it would cost $12 million to renovate the building, but only about $8 million to demolish it and build a 600-seat elementary school.

Bloomsbury supporters, organized by the Catonsville Community Conservation Coalition, have said the building could be renovated for about $9.5 million, giving the community a 1,000-seat middle school near the center of the community.,

"It's a symbol of a school that served tens of thousands of kids and did a very good job. But we've got to move on," said board vice president Paul Cunningham, a Catonsville resident.

"Bloomsbury needs to be torn down. An elementary school needs to be built there. We need to get about the business of educating kids."

Acting superintendent Anthony G. Marchione agreed: "This is the way to go, based not only on the numbers but on all the processes that have been done," he said, citing about $40,000 worth of design work on the proposed elementary school.

Dr. Marchione and board members also said that more than $2 million in state money is in jeopardy if the county wavers from its plan to build the Southwest elementary.

State officials have said they would not contribute to a renovation of the old school, but would likely give $2.23 million for the new school.

The capital budget, which covers construction and repairs slated for July 1996 through June 1998, includes 15 projects that total $54.7 million.

Among those projects are a new Martin Boulevard Elementary on the east side, a $10 million modernization of Catonsville High School and a $15 million renovation and addition to Franklin Middle School, which is severely crowded.

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