Six Baltimore schools, including two high schools, would close in June as part of the city district's proposal to downsize to fit current enrollment and prepare for a $980 million modernization, officials said Tuesday.
School administrators showed the school board a consolidation plan that would relocate several small schools and adjust the grade spans at others.
If all of it is approved, 27 schools would be affected. The school board will also be asked to approve contract extensions for eight charter schools.
The six schools recommended for closure are Abbottston Elementary, Langston Hughes Elementary, Dr. Rayner Browne Elementary/Middle, Northeast Middle, W.E.B DuBois High and Heritage High.
"We want to make sure we are still delivering transformational educational opportunities to students … while looking at every cost-saving measure," said Nicole Price, director of family and community engagement for the school system.
School enrollment has declined from 110,000 in the 1990s to about 84,700 last year. The school system has been trying to get rid of its underused buildings.
Enrollment dipped to a low of 81,000 students in 2007. Since then, the school system has seen an increase of several hundred students a year as families with children have stayed in the city. Officials did not release Sept. 30 enrollment figures but indicated that the number has increased slightly.
Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake wants to attract 10,000 more families to the city over the next decade.
"Baltimore schools are growing, which is a great sign for our city," she said in a statement. "My priority is to work in partnership to secure the resources necessary that can build the schools parents want to send their children to, which is why I fought so hard for school construction funds."
Administrators developed the recommendations in part as a response to a revised estimate of the number of buildings that can be built or renovated with the $980 million in bond proceeds.
The plan originally called for the revitalization of 40 school buildings, but the figure has dropped to between 23 and 28.
Dozens of schools have been closed over the past decade, even as new, small charter schools have sprouted. In 2011, more than a quarter of the city's 200 school buildings had 250 or fewer students.
The recommendations that are expected to elicit the most concern from the community include Abbottston, a small school in Waverly with a dwindling population, and Heritage High, now located in the old Lake Clifton High School building.
City Councilwoman Mary Pat Clarke opposes the closure of Abbottston, a school with 186 students, because it was renovated less than a decade ago and is small.
"Small schools have a great value for little children," she said. "Small schools are quiet and family-like and they can be intense in their teaching because students are at ease. They feel safe. Small schools are worth saving."
Abbottston was considered one of the highest-achieving schools in the city until the Maryland State Department of Education found evidence of widespread cheating at the school in 2009.
Clarke said the school's new principal and a strong sense of community should help enrollment increase in the future.
If the recommendations are approved, Abbottston students would move from the school's current location next to City College in the Coldstream-Homestead-Montebello neighborhood to the Waverly Elementary/Middle building.
Angelica McKnight, a sophomore at Heritage, asked the board not to close the school before her class graduates.
"Today I found out my school is closing," she said. She said the high school provides a "great, fun, productive learning experience."
"Heritage is awesome," McKnight said. "I wouldn't want to go to any other school. I'd like to graduate."
Heritage High would close at the end of the school year, and the REACH! Partnership School, which shares the Lake Clifton campus with Heritage, would relocate to the Fairmount-Harford building by the 2020-2021 school year. The Lake Clifton building was originally scheduled to be renovated under the plan to modernize the school infrastructure.
Lake Clifton was believed to be the largest school in the nation when it was built to hold 4,000 students in 1972. The school has one mile of corridors and 120 classrooms, but only a portion of the building is currently being used.
Mark Washington, head of the Coldstream-Homestead-Montebello Corp. and an alumnus of Lake Clifton, said the neighborhood submitted a proposal to the school board about how to best renovate and use the school and the park.
Neighbors were disappointed by the recommendation to defer any work at Lake Clifton.
Washington said he understands the system's desire to make the most of its money, but he worries about "the damage that recommendation could have on the community."
Richard McCoy, president of the Lake Clifton Alumni Association, said low enrollment was not a legitimate reason to close schools. He said smaller schools were a focus of the previous city schools administration. In 2002, the city school system began breaking up its largest high schools to reduce violence and increase achievement.
"It was the school system's idea to go to smaller learning environments," he said. "They could have [Lake Clifton] up to capacity if they wanted to. They're the ones that are limiting enrollment."
For alumni in particular, McCoy said, it would be "devastating" to see the school empty. He said they hope elements of Lake Clifton's legacy, such as the school's artwork, would be retained at Fairmount-Harford if REACH! Relocates.
Neighbors are holding out hope that the building can be used as a community center and "won't become an eyesore," McCoy said.
Reginald F. Lewis High School would remain in the old Northern High School building near East Northern Parkway and Perring Parkway after W.E.B. Dubois High School there closes. The building would be modified to house Achievement Academy as well.
Vanguard Collegiate Middle School would move into the building on Moravia Road after Northeast Middle School closed.
Dr. Rayner Browne Elementary/Middle, a school of 195 students in the Milton Montford neighborhood of East Baltimore, was initially slated for renovation, but school officials decided students would be better served at Lakewood Elementary in nearby Berea.
Students attending Langston Hughes Elementary in Northwest Baltimore would have the option of enrolling at nearby Arlington Elementary or Pimlico Elementary/Middle, which would both be renovated or replaced.
George Mitchell, president of the Langston Hughes Community Association, spoke against the recommendation. He said Langston Hughes gives a more well-rounded education and is in better shape than Arlington or Pimlico. He said forcing students to walk to the other schools could put them in danger.
"I know Langston Hughes is the forgotten stepchild up there in Park Heights," he said. But he added that students are not only preparing for college there at a young age; they are also learning manners and life lessons.
"They're not stupid," he said, "they're just poor."
In addition to the summer 2015 closures, Guilford Elementary/Middle is recommended to close in 2019, sending its students to Walter P. Carter Elementary across York Road in Wilson Park or other local middle schools.
The board is scheduled to vote Dec. 17 on whether to adopt the plan.
Baltimore Sun reporter Yvonne Wenger contributed to this article.