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Baltimore school system breaks ground on five more buildings, set to open by 2020

Lanyia Whitehurst is a fourth-grader at Calvin M. Rodwell Elementary School in Northwest Baltimore, which is about to be replaced with a larger building to accommodate a growing student body.

“I love my school,” she said. “But I’m ready for a new building.”

That new building is expected to have functioning water fountains and heating, among other improvements, said Nicole Price, a spokeswoman for the 21st Century School Buildings Program.

Whitehurst was on hand Thursday as city school officials broke ground on the next five schools that will undergo renovations or replacement as part of the 21st Century School Buildings Program. The ceremony was held in front of Arlington Elementary/Middle School, another of the five.

The $1 billion initiative was established in 2013 by the Maryland General Assembly in partnership with the city, the Maryland Stadium Authority, the city school system and the state’s Interagency Committee on School Construction to redevelop and modernize Baltimore’s aging school buildings.

Two of the five schools — Arlington Elementary/Middle and John Ruhrah Elementary/Middle — will be renovated and expanded, while Bay-Brook Elementary/Middle and Calvin G. Rodwell will be replaced entirely. The Fairmount-Harford building on Harford Road — which is the future home of the REACH! Partnership School — will undergo renovations.

Officials expect to finish construction at Arlington and Fairmount-Harford in September 2019. The rest of the schools should reopen by January 2020.

These five buildings represent some of the most egregious challenges that schools in this city face,” said Baltimore schools CEO Sonja Santelises. “This is part of a larger plan to look at the most challenged buildings.”

Santelises said problems with outdated infrastructure — including plumbing, heating and air conditioning — have long plagued the city’s school buildings.

Nearly half of the city’s 171 schools experienced heating troubles or burst pipes in January, and images of students bundled up in coats and scarves went viral on social media. The city recently identified more than 70 schools with “inadequate cooling or no air-conditioning” and designated early dismissal times for days when temperatures soar over 100 degrees.

“When that kind of repair or investment is delayed or completely overlooked, there comes a day of reckoning,” Santelises said.

Each of the new buildings will have two music rooms, at least one art room, a technology room, a science laboratory and collaborative spaces for students, Price said.

Officials estimate it will cost more than $170 million to renovate and replace the five schools. John Ruhrah and Bay-Brook will be the costliest buildings, with budgets of $53 million and $45 million, respectively. Calvin M. Rodwell has a $38 million budget and Arlington has a $35 million budget. Officials did not provide a cost for the Fairmount-Harford building renovation.

After a five-day period in which nearly 15 inches of rain fell in the city, officials, teachers, students and families rejoiced in the sunshine at Thursday’s groundbreaking ceremony.

“We work daily in our district and education is one of the most important things,” said City Councilwoman Sharon Green Middleton, a former educator. Several delegates and other elected officials also attended.

With the exception of the REACH! Partnership school, the students who attend the schools that will be renovated or replaced will be housed temporarily in school buildings that have closed over the past five years. A major component of the 21st Century plan involved closing underused schools and increasing the use of those that remained open.

REACH! students will remain at the Lake Clifton building.

The 21st Century program has already renovated or replaced four schools: Fort Worthington Elementary/Middle was replaced and Frederick Elementary, Lyndhurst Elementary/Middle and Dorothy I. Height Elementary were renovated with additions.

Five more renovated or rebuilt buildings — Arundel Elementary, Cherry Hill Elementary/Middle, Forest Park High, Pimlico Elementary/Middle School and Robert Poole Middle — will be unveiled by the first day of school in September, Price said. Arundel was the only school that was replaced, while the others were renovated with additions.

Officials said the initiative is on track to renovate or rebuild up to 28 schools over the next 10 years.

llumpkin@baltsun.com

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