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Sports find campus home

The Baltimore Sun

Three years of classroom lunches, wrestling practices in a storage room and 16-mile commutes to practice and games for other sports teams will soon end with the completion of a $10 million athletic center at Annapolis Area Christian's Upper School.

The center opened today on the Severn Run campus to coincide with the start of classes, although students won't fully benefit for a few more weeks. Floors still must be laid in the cafeteria, locker rooms and weight room. The basketball court still needs to be painted, and the hoops have not been installed.

Still, students will be able to eat in the unfinished cafeteria. Since the school relocated to the partially completed campus three years ago, students have had to brownbag it in classrooms.

"Even just to have a dining room is a huge step up for us," said David Castle, the new superintendent of Annapolis Area Christian's three schools.

His promotion is one of the other major changes the 490 high schoolers will see this year. Castle replaces Larry Kooi, who retired in June after seven years as superintendent. Former academic dean Donald Wiley takes over for Castle as Upper School principal.

The Herndon Kilby Athletic Center will be dedicated in October. It was named after a prominent local builder whose family donated more than $1 million to build the center. Several of Kilby's grandchildren attend Annapolis Area Christian's elementary and middle schools.

The 90,000-square-foot center includes two gymnasiums, five classrooms, an engineering-robotics classroom, a weight room, bookstore and cafeteria. An outdoor pool will be built by next spring before summer camps begin, although it could take up to 18 months to raise enough money to enclose it, said Kooi.

Without a gym, the Upper School's basketball and volleyball teams have had to be bused to the old Annapolis campus to practice and play. Because the basketball teams had to stagger practices at the middle school's gym, some students didn't finish until 9:30 p.m., said Joe Palumbo, the school's athletic director. The teams finally will be able to have their home games on campus.

The new center not only eliminates the commute, but its two gyms will also allow the basketball players to be home two hours earlier after practice, Palumbo said. Students also can't wait to attend home games - at home.

"When everyone gets together for the basketball games, it's going to be great," said Jenny Nix, 17, a senior from Severna Park.

The new center also ends years of inconvenience for the wrestling team, which for two years has been practicing in a storage room at Glen Burnie Evangelical Presbyterian Church. The team now has its own practice room in the athletic center.

Once the field house is finished in October, the field hockey, soccer and football teams will be able to practice on the center's indoor artificial turf. The football team is starting its inaugural season this year and will play home games at Broadneck High School.

The center will be offered to community groups to rent. The school has offered free use of the weight room to the local police department. School officials also have offered to host an event for the Special Olympics in March, Castle said.

The opening of the center marks the halfway point for the development of a $32 million, college-like campus. Annapolis Area Christian School took ownership of the donated 62-acre parcel in 1999. When the Upper School moved from its Annapolis campus on Bestgate Road it made room for the middle school, which had been housed with the lower grades in the Evangelical Presbyterian Church in Annapolis.

The school has used $20 million from a $25 million state, tax-exempt bond to pay for campus facilities and raised $12 million in pledges, Kooi said.

Within five years, the school hopes to have practice fields and build a media arts center as well as a quad to unite the campus' four buildings. Landscaping for the quad should be done by next fall, Palumbo said.

Plans are in the works for a fifth building that would house the school's humanities department. That would exceed the scope of the $32 million project and would not be started until after the media arts building is finished, Kooi said.

Castle said high schools increasingly are trying to set themselves apart by trying to create a college-like atmosphere.

"The line between where a high school stops and a college starts is really blurred," Castle said.

The new school's location and plans have helped recruiting, Castle said. The old Upper School in Annapolis had 320 students in 2001. This year, the school has 490 students. When the campus is complete, it will have room for 550 students, he said.

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