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After years of fighting, renovations begin inside one Baltimore City elementary school

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Zshekinah Collier
The roof of the school on Furley Avenue is lined with five-gallon buckets.

In the coming months, Tayla McCray, a fifth-grade student who attends Furley Elementary School in Baltimore City, will watch her soon-to-be old school transform into a new place. But McCray said she wants to remember the ‘great times’, like when she and her dad dressed up for the father-daughter dance.

She’s excited for her peers because she’s already continuing her educational journey by attending middle school next year.

“I hope all of the future Furley Foxes [the school’s mascot], have the same rich experience,” she said.

Baltimore City officials, public school leaders, and community members gathered in the Frankford neighborhood to celebrate the start of the construction of Furley Elementary School on Monday morning.

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Zshekinah Collier
Tayla McCray, a fifth-grade student who attends Furley Elementary School in Baltimore City.

Maurice Gaskins, director of construction for Baltimore City Public Schools said the school district relocated students nearly eight years ago due to structural issues.

The roof of the school on Furley Avenue is lined with five-gallon buckets.

“The building is failing structurally,” Gaskins said. “So we have buckets up there filled with cement, as a counterweight to help to keep the facade in place.”

The project was finally approved to start construction through a partnership with Maryland’s Interagency Commission on School Construction, known as the IAC, and money from Baltimore City Schools’ Capital funding, Gaskins said.

The district estimated $35.5 million for the project during a state meeting in 2020.

Principal Greta Cephas said it's been a “very long journey” and looks forward to welcoming students to the renovated building starting in 2024.

Furley Elementary is currently housed in the building previously known as Thurgood Marshall High School, but the Furley Recreation Center is still up and running in the building. With the help of funding from the federal American Rescue Plan, the center will get an upgrade as well.

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Zshekinah Collier
Baltimore City Mayor Brandon Scott speaks during a recent press conference about Furley Elementary School.

Baltimore City Mayor Brandon Scott said it was a priority to keep the center open by leveraging federal money as the school will be renovated.

“We could not lose them, we could not lose the services that they provide for our children and our families,” Scott said.

Both students and the community are finally receiving what they deserve, he said.

“It's our responsibility to engage them and keep them excited about education,” he said. “And you can't keep them excited about the education and facilities that they know are not worthy of them.”

Del. Stephanie Smith, who represents District 45, said that she is excited about the remodel and hopes more schools do not have to endure a long battle like Furley Elementary.

“When we're in Annapolis, we see children from Baltimore City, pleading for the basics of what they already deserve,” Smith said. “Other students from other parts of the state, they're asking for the pluses. It shouldn't take all that for our young people to get their basics.”

Zshekinah Collier is WYPR’s 2022-2023 Report for America Corps Member, where she covers Education. @Zshekinahgf
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