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Baltimore City Schools Unveil $2.4-Billion Construction Plan
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November 27, 2012
Baltimore City school officials unveiled today a $2.4 billion plan to bring the city’s deteriorating school buildings up to modern standards. It involves closing 26 schools and either renovating or replacing 136 others. The 10-year plan has the backing of the mayor and other local and state elected officials. WYPR’s Gwendolyn Glenn has more.
Gwendolyn Glenn: City schools’ CEO Dr. Andres Alsonso said many of the elements in the plan were hard choices, such as the recommendation to reduce the number of school buildings from 163 to 137.
Dr. Andres Alonso: We know that communities will struggle with that recommendation but it has to happen. We will work with the city and our communities in deciding the use of those buildings so they will be additions to the life of communities rather than empty buildings.
Glenn: Alonso made the announcement in a packed room at Calvin Rodwell Elementary school that had the feeling of a pep rally.
Bishop Douglas Miles: Let’s do it now, we can do it for the sake of our children and for the future of Baltimore…applause slow fade.
Glenn: Bishop Douglas Miles, a founding member of the non-profit Baltimore Education Coalition, was among those in the packed room offering their support for the proposed school rebuilding plan. Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, who was also in attendance, said pruning the number of buildings in the district is necessary to garner support from lawmakers in Annapolis, who must approve the funding to build new and renovate older schools.
Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake: The decisions that have to be made to close some schools is going to be rough all around, because everyone has emotional attachments, has historic attachment, but we have to have a stronger attachment to these boys that are sitting right here than to the building.
Glenn: A report released last spring revealed that in addition to city schools lacking basics such as quality drinking water, air conditioning, and wiring for computers, two-thirds of their space was under-utilized. Alonso said with the school closures, his plan will increase the utilization of buildings’ space to 77 percent. Parent and member of the Baltimore Education Coalition Sherelle Savage said she supports the plan and its call for some closures.
Sherelle Savage: At the end of the day, we have to remember we are not just fighting for some schools, but every building in our school system to be renovated and rebuilt. New 21st Century school buildings that reflect the amazing vision that we have for all of our children.
Glenn: Board of School Commissioners Chair Neil Duke said even though the district has achieved academic success in some areas, the poor condition of school buildings is has not been adequately addressed.
Neil Duke: With the advent, now the announcement of our 10-year plan, we hope to address these deficiencies in a bold and very innovative way. We have to hustle folks. There’s no more time to waste and no is not an acceptable answer…applause
Glenn: But to implement the district’s ambitious school building plan, officials must convince state lawmakers to give the district an annual lump sum of $32 million over the next 10 years. That money would allow the district to increase its’ bonding authority to more than a billion dollars. Baltimore City state Delegate Curt Anderson thinks it can be done.
Curt Anderson: Baltimore city delegation and the senate, they all are 100 percent on board. Many members of the appropriations money committees in Annapolis are on board. The speaker has said he is favorable to this idea. And once we get that momentum going, I think we can get this bill passed this year.
Glenn: When asked if this year’s audit report of city schools, which found funds not collected or improperly spent, would hurt the district’s chances in Annapolis, Alonso said he’s prepared to answer any questions about the audit. Under the plan, new school construction would begin in 2014 and in the 2012-13 school year, Baltimore Rising Star Academy, Garrison Middle, Patapsco Elementary/Middle and William C. March Middle schools would closed. I’m Gwendolyn Glenn reporting in Baltimore for 88 1, WYPR.
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