Howard Park request to lease vacant school rejected by city Civic leaders propose to reuse building as a community center


An article and caption in Monday's editions about the Howard Park community in Northwest Baltimore stated incorrectly that Glord McGuire is the president of the Howard Park Civic Association. In fact, he will not take that post until January. The current president is Frederick Bailey.

The Sun regrets the error.

Community leaders in Howard Park thought they had made a simple request of City Hall -- to rent them a vacant elementary school in their Northwest Baltimore neighborhood for a community center.

But more than three years after their initial request, all they have to show for their efforts is a pile of letters to city officials and, they say, a brushoff from the Schmoke administration.

Howard Park Elementary School, in the 4800 block of Liberty Heights Ave., was built 90 years ago, with an annex added years later. The original brick building with its stone foundation has been vacant for 17 years. The city rents part of the annex to a senior center serving the neighboring Forest Park community.

The original building "has high ceilings and stone floors. It has the classical look of a home, and it fits right into the community," said Traci Hamm, a vice president of the Howard Park Civic Association who attended the school.

She and other residents want the building to become a community center -- and possible police substation -- to anchor their area.

"It's a stable neighborhood, but a center like this would bring us together for a more cohesive community," said Joan Brooks, who has lived in the neighborhood 14 years.

Hamm has been writing letters to Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke and arranging meetings with the mayor and other city officials for the past few years, trying to gain control of the building for the community's use.

But now the city's housing commissioner, Daniel P. Henson III, has rejected the community's request, saying the group has failed to provide the kind of detailed plan needed to develop the property.

City to seek proposals

"It's not an acceptable proposal," Henson said last week. He said the city is about to advertise for development proposals for the property.

"I've got to consider what is the best proposal. I think the right development plan could hit a major home run in a community that needs a boost," said Henson, who lives in Grove Park, within walking distance of the school.

Henson said the building contains asbestos that needs to be removed, which would make a development plan difficult.

And he said the civic association has been unable to explain to the city how it would finance the project. "I'm not willing to waste time with folks who don't know what they're doing," Henson said.

Hamm and others complain that the city gave them just one week this fall to alter a proposal they had submitted -- the proposal that Henson criticizes as inadequate.

"I'm not a grant writer, just a community person. I feel the city should have offered some assistance," she said.

Henson said he wants to accommodate the community by requiring any developer of the school to provide meeting space for Howard Park residents, but community leaders say that promise is not enough.

"That space could be anywhere. It could be in the basement," said Glord McGuire, the civic association's new president.

Demolition possible

The community recently sent a request to the city Commission for Historical and Architectural Preservation, asking it to make the school a historic site. But Henson indicated he might entertain a proposal that would demolish the building.

"I would be totally against that," Hamm said. "It's the only building now built in Howard Park that carries the Howard Park name. It's part of our history. Most of our history is now gone."

Pub Date: 12/09/96

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