Annapolis to celebrate Stanton Center opening; Once all-black school special place to many in city, officials say


As workers put the final touches on the Stanton Center, Annapolis is gearing up for a long-awaited grand opening ceremony that will span three days.

City officials said yesterday that an official opening is scheduled for July 7 through July 9. Festivities include a ribbon-cutting, parade and live gospel music.

A detailed list of events is scheduled to be released next week.

"The city wants to make this a special event," said Kirby J. McKinney, the center's executive director.

A longtime institution for many of Annapolis' African-Americans, the century-old building on West Washington Street has been closed for more than two years to undergo a $3 million renovation. The city promised a much-improved facility, but skepticism grew as the project fell almost one year behind schedule.

Alderman Sheila M. Tolliver, whose 2nd Ward includes the center, said many of the residents who used the facility over the years have become frustrated.

"It's been a long wait," Tolliver said.

McKinney said the city has budgeted $6,500 for the opening celebration, which has created a buzz in the surrounding Clay Street neighborhood. "People see me on the street and want to know when it's official," McKinney said.

Many of them remember when the Stanton Center was the only black high school in the county before it became a community center.

Through the years, they saw the center deteriorate. The roof leaked, the walls were crumbling and the wood floors rotted, but still youths gathered at the center and families used it for wedding receptions.

The city took control of the building from the county in 1994 and promptly spent almost $300,000 to repair the roof and windows. Major renovations were planned but were often met with obstacles until two years ago.

The center closed its doors in 1998, and programs were relocated. The work was scheduled to be complete in mid-1999.

Several small gatherings, including a toy gun buyback two weeks ago, have been held recently in the building, and several organizations began moving into their new offices in it last week.

The new gym was put to the test last week as a summer basketball league was forced indoors because of bad weather. McKinney said about 100 people crammed into the gym to watch.

The new center also features a commercial kitchen, computer lab, office space and a health clinic with an examination room. To commemorate the history of the building, an old classroom has been preserved and photos of past classes have been placed on the walls.

"This isn't what you call your average community center," McKinney said.

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