Work didn't stop last week at Hampstead Hill Academy, although teachers and pupils were away for the winter break.
Late one morning, two workers were perched on a scaffold, sealing the Southeast Baltimore school's new windows with caulk. They were not school system employees, but workers from a glass company hired by local developer Struever Bros. Eccles & Rouse Inc., which has been making improvements at several city schools near its major building projects.
Hampstead Hill, one of five schools in which Struever Bros. has done hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of renovations in the past two years for free, is near several of the developer's residential and commercial projects.
C. William Struever, the company's president and a former city school board member, said his developments benefit from being near attractive schools.
"We see strong schools as being enormously important in having a strong neighborhood," he said. "Since we're builders, [renovating schools] is the easiest way we can be useful."
The other schools that have received major improvements are Francis Scott Key Technology Magnet School and George G. Kelson, Commodore John Rodgers and City Springs elementaries.
City Springs' principal, Bernice Whelchel, said air conditioners installed by Struever Bros. have reduced asthma attacks among her pupils on warm school days.
Last week, as the windows were being weatherproofed at Hampstead Hill, Principal Matthew Hornbeck showed a visitor the improvements done by the company: a resurfaced blacktop playground, landscaping, a green chain-link fence and a new school sign.
Inside the school were renovated bathrooms, new floor tiles and new child-size cafeteria furniture.
Struever Bros. also plans to spend about $100,000 on converting a classroom into a science lab - an educational requirement for the former elementary school, which is expanding to include middle school grades.
Many of the improvements likely would not have been undertaken by the financially troubled school system, Hornbeck said. There are many city schools in far worse shape than Hampstead Hill's current building, which was built in 1989.
But the school still had needs, such as replacing old windows that pupils could not see out of. Struever Bros. replaced every windowpane in the three-story brick building.
Last week, Hornbeck was able to look out of the cafeteria's new windows, past the workers on the scaffold, and admire the view of Patterson Park.
"The system which the schools have to go through to get anything done is just so long and frustrating," said Kate McShane-Oeming, the company's community outreach coordinator. "It's so nice to just go in and do it."
Hampstead Hill's physical makeover has also been important for reasons that are less visible, Hornbeck said. Community members are taking more pride in the school. Parents bring their children in on time. Teacher morale is higher.
Added the principal: "You can just imagine how things snowball."