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$2 million sought for Bates school County requests funds to restore historic building; 'It's a daunting project'; Renovation project eventually could cost as much as $15 million


County officials asked yesterday for $2 million in next year's capital budget to help restore Wiley H. Bates High School, a languishing piece of history that has attracted public and private support for its renovation.

The money would represent one component of a complex financing plan to turn the abandoned Annapolis high school into a senior community center and, possibly, a science learning hub for children.

Plans to make over what was once the city's only high school for blacks before it closed in 1966 with desegregation could cost as much as $15 million.

"It's a daunting project because so many pieces have to fall into place," said Jerome W. Klasmeier, the county's central services officer. "But I'm optimistic they will."

Mr. Klasmeier made his request before the county Planning Advisory Board, a seven-member panel that met yesterday to review projects proposed for next year's capital budget.

The board, which will not begin culling the requests until the end of the month, will meet at least six more times before presenting recommendations to County Executive John G. Gary.

If included in next year's budget, which the County Council must approve by June 1, the $2 million for Bates will be used as leverage to pry a matching amount from the General Assembly.

Last year, legislators rejected a county-sponsored bill requesting money for the Bates project, asking the county to come back with a more detailed financing plan that would include substantial private investment.

Mr. Klasmeier said the county, armed with a still-shaky financing blueprint, will approach state officials within six weeks with a request for matching funds. He said the county has been lobbying the governor's office for support.

But the financing plan is still a house of cards, which will collapse without state money, he said.

First, it calls for developers who want to build 100 senior apartments near the school to contribute to the renovation cost.

The Challenger Center for Space Science has shown interest in opening one of its interactive classrooms in the building, now a dank brick shell along Smithville Street.

Mr. Klasmeier said the national nonprofit organization would contribute $2 million to the project for the rights to open a classroom.

Nonprofit community groups in Baltimore and Annapolis have made overtures to help preserve the historic site in the past, but that might not be enough.

"There are still some huge gaps in the financing," said George C. Shenk, a member of the advisory board.

The county spent $129 million on capital projects last year, which doesn't include $41.6 million in bond spending for the County Courthouse expansion.

Planners asked the advisory board yesterday to authorize another $13.1 million for the second phase of the $62.4 million project.

"If we're talking about major investments by this county, this is it," said Newton Gentry III, the board chairman.

The panel heard pleas for about $35 million in new projects and equipment, requests ranging from speed bumps to software. They included:

* A request from John R. Hammond, the county financial officer, for $2.5 million to pay for new financial-management software.

The new computer program, which will cost $7.5 million over the next three years, is expected to simplify county recordkeeping and tax collection. Also, officials discovered that software now being used will crash for technical reasons when the year turns 2000.

* A $1.5 million request from the police department, which included plans to build a $926,000 firing range at its Davidsonville training academy. Police Chief Robert A. Beck also asked for $345,000 to expand the Northern and Western district stations, and $221,000 for general repairs.

The board's next meeting is Thursday.

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