Center waiting for work to begin Move for renovations, community programs on hold pending action


Articles in the Anne Arundel County edition of The Sun Sunday and yesterday misidentified the temporary relocation site of the Stanton Community Center. The center will move to the Universal Lodge No. 14 F&A; Masons on Clay Street by June 1 and remain until renovation of the center's historic building is completed.

The Sun regrets the error.

At the Stanton Community Center, Norman Brailey is waiting.

Boxes of mementos are piled up. Furniture is stacked in the corners of dim, nearly empty rooms. Buckets and brooms stand against walls.

All packed and nowhere to go, Brailey, the center's director, says with a shrug.

The city of Annapolis is supposed to begin a $2.5 million renovation of the center, which is likely to take a year. During that time, the center will move its programs.

Everyone -- from volunteers to residents of the surrounding Clay Street community -- seems ready to get started. Everyone except the city, which has given no word on when construction will get under way and programming can be moved to the Masonic Temple on Conduit Street.

"We don't have any idea when we are going to leave," says Brailey. "We've got people coming in who keep asking us if we've moved yet or when we're moving. I don't know what to tell them.

"We're starting to feel somewhat disenchanted. We want to get to our new space. We want construction work to begin. We can't really keep our programs going strong when everything is still up in the air like this."

City officials keep promising the move will begin soon, says Brailey, who has watched other groups move out, including the Community Action Agency and the Boys and Girls Club.

City officials say they are unaware of any concerns.

"I didn't know there was a problem," says city administrator Walter N. Chitwood III. "I thought we were on track, and that everyone understood that. We couldn't start construction until we got the additional state appropriation for the project.

"We got that last month, and now the city council has to appropriate the money to the project. That's supposed to happen in the beginning of June. We are not delaying this project."

However, Chitwood is unsure when the move or construction will begin. Programs cannot be moved until the city negotiates a contract with the Masonic Temple.

If the community seems impatient, it could be because plans to renovate the center have been in the works for more than two years. Former Mayor Alfred A. Hopkins gave it a top priority in his last few budgets.

But the center has hit obstacle after obstacle. First, plans were put on hold while a suitable relocation site was found. Add to that the time it took to find an architect who could reconstruct a building listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Then add the year it took for the community to settle on a design for the renovated center.

At that point, Hopkins decided the project wasn't as urgent as the revitalization of Inner West Street. He put off funding for the Stanton Center in the last budget year until public outcry forced him to put the money back.

Construction was to have begun in May or June 1997. At the time, city officials said they were waiting for state funds, which came in the amount of $300,000 last month.

In the past few years, the city has spent at least $300,000 fixing doors, windows and roofs at the center.

But the worn brick building, which once housed the first high school for blacks in Anne Arundel County, still leaks and has peeling lead paint, crumbling plaster and rotting wood floors.

Time has taken its toll on the building, which wasn't always a multipurpose center but has been a part of the city's black community since just after the Civil War. Most accounts say the Stanton School was founded in 1867 in Parole by the Freedmen's Bureau, the federal agency developed to help newly freed slaves.

It was named in honor of Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton, who helped obtain lumber from an old prison barracks in Parole.

The school moved to West Washington Street in 1869, after President Andrew Johnson disbanded the Freedmen's Bureau. In 1919, the school was expanded to include higher grade levels so that elementary and high school classes were taught there until the Wiley H. Bates High School was built on Smithville Street in 1932.

The school closed in 1964 after public schools were integrated, and the building fell into disrepair. The building was used for storage until 1968, when it was refurbished as a community center -- part of an urban renewal program to revitalize the neighborhood.

Dozens of programs are held there every week, including dances, food distribution, basketball games, martial arts classes, summer day camps and Narcotics Anonymous meetings.

The building also brings the community together for family reunions, weddings and Thanksgiving dinners.

Joe LeFrance of the Blue Dragon Institute of Martial Arts is one of dozens of volunteers.

"There are good kids and good people in that community," Le-France says. "The center keeps the kids off the streets. It's made a real impact on their lives."

LeFrance should know. He coached 9-year-old DeLacey Savoy into becoming a martial arts champion after she joined the program at the center two years ago.

"The center is so important to the community," says Valerie Neal, DeLacey's mother, who lives in nearby Annapolis Gardens. "They really helped me out while I was working because my daughter went there after school and got interested in martial arts.

"They introduced her to something she might never have been open to. I guess we're worried that when the center moves, some of the children won't have a place to go."

Pub Date: 5/17/98

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