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Report recommends tearing down mothballed Catonsville Elementary

A new study is recommending that the old Catonsville Elementary School on Frederick Road be demolished.

The study on the vacant century-old building was commissioned by Baltimore County in 2015 and conducted by Manns Woodward Studios of White Marsh.

Other options were studied, including a major remodeling of the building for an estimated $19.4 million, or tearing it down and building a modern replacement.

Renovating the building "doesn't fit into the equation" because of the county's commitment to its $1.3 billion Schools for our Future plan, which calls for 15 new schools and 11 additions at schools throughout the county, along with installing air conditioning at schools without central cooling systems, county spokeswoman Ellen Kobler said.

"We're not in a position to spend the $19 million that the independent engineering firm assessment indicated would cost to ... modernize the entire facility," she said.

The county is considering razing the school and replacing it with a community center building and a small park for an estimated $3.6 million, Kobler said. Specifications for the building are still being developed, Kobler said.

Kobler said the county has received support for the new community center, which would replace some of the recreational space that was lost when the Bloomsbury Community Center was converted into the new Catonsville Elementary School, where classes started this year.

"The idea that they would tear this entire building down at this point in time is, really, a completely wrong idea because the community is growing and we need space," said Char Brooks, who lives in Catonsville, and runs a 132-member Facebook group, "Friends of the former Catonsville Elementary School," that advocates sparing the building.

Klaus Philipsen, president of ArchPlan, a Baltimore-based architecture firm, who previously did layout drawings for ways the local arts guild could use space in the school, said he couldn't believe the plan to demolish the school for a smaller building.

Philipsen, who lives in Catonsville, said the building should not be torn down. A public-private partnership could allocate space for the arts, recreation and housing, and bring more value to the area, he said.

"We need to think long term, for the village and the future of what Catonsville is," he said about what he called the most stately building on Frederick Road. "We can't just do whatever is the most expeditious in the moment."

County Councilman Tom Quirk, whose district includes Catonsville, said there are other options the county should explore, such as a public-private partnership.

"I think two options is just a logical fallacy and I reject it," he said.

Quirk hopes to hold several community meetings to gather input in the next six months.

The Baltimore County Arts Guild had hoped to use the space as recently as last year, when County Executive Kevin Kamenetz wrote a letter in support of the guild's involvement with the building — but they would need to raise $9 million for renovations, which did not happen. That price tag was not based on an engineering firm's estimate, Kobler said.

The county is interested in providing dedicated space in a new community center for the guild, Kobler said.

The consultant's estimated cost for renovation work includes $2.6 million for heat, air conditioning and ventilation systems, $2 million in electrical work and $658,040 for plumbing and fire suppression systems. Other work required includes replacing windows and updating restrooms to meet federal standards on access for the disabled.

"For a building that is nearly a century old, the original design has served its purpose well," the study's executive summary reads. "Over the course of its life, the building has withstood many years of use and abuse. However, it is the building's age and size that presents significant and costly challenges in regards to bringing the existing building up to contemporary code standards and systemic modernization."

The 57,692-square foot building was constructed in 1909 and opened in 1910, according to state and school system records. An addition opened in 1971.

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