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New school at EBDI brings new hope

Amid fanfare and protest, ground was broken Monday for a $43 million, state-of the art public charter school in the heart of the 88-acre East Baltimore Development Inc. project.

Mary Louise Poole paints a beach sunset scene on the face of 7-year old Nevaeh Cooper, a second grader at the East Baltimore Community School, at Monday’s groundbreaking for a new school.

The event culminated years of planning for the school that EBDI, Baltimore and the Johns Hopkins University officials hope will become a centerpiece of the 10-year-old, $1.8 billion project that will help attract families to the once crime-ridden community in the shadow of Hopkins Hospital known as Middle East.

The 7-acre, 120,000-square foot facility, the Elmer A. Henderson: A Johns Hopkins Partnership School, will be built with public and private funds. It is expected to open during the 2013-14 school year.

Before Monday’s groundbreaking, attended by about 250 people, children from the East Baltimore Community School, their parents and area residents mingled in a block party atmosphere in the 2100 block of Ashland Avenue, where the front door of the new school will be.

Nearby, a group of about 70 protestors, including a few Hopkins nursing students, chanted slogans demanding that contractors hire local workers to build the school.

The school children were oblivious to the protest as they ate snow cones, hot dogs and popcorn and had their faces painted.

Some stood at a booth and watched Johns Hopkins employees conduct a science experiment to create slime. Hopkins employees wearing T-shirts that said “Henderson Hopkins” also mingled with the crowd.

The groundbreaking also attracted a number of city officials, including Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake and Baltimore City Public Schools CEO Andres Alonso, and top administrators from the Johns Hopkins University and medical institutions, and from EBDI and its board.

“It’s been a long time coming, and we can see the finish line now,” said Rawlings-Blake. “These are the first steps in making another significant improvement at EBDI.”

As the mayor spoke, the protestors turned their backs to her and held up their signs in silence.

Johns Hopkins President Ronald J. Daniels described the new school as a collaboration among Hopkins, Morgan State University and the community.

“In the coming years, Johns Hopkins will contribute the best we have to offer,” Daniels said. “Every division of Johns Hopkins will contribute in every way to this school.”

Private contributions for the facility — the first public to be built in East Baltimore in the last 25 years — include a $15 million grant from the Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Foundation for the 28,000-square foot early childhood center and $3 million in capital funds from Hopkins, which will also fund $750,000 in operating costs in the school’s first eight years, according to the university’s website.

The public contribution totals $8 million in Tax Increment Financing bonds. EBDI officials applied TIF bond funds to the construction last year to cover the costs of the school’s library and community center, both of which will be used by the general public as well as students.

In addition, $25 million in TIF funds were spent to buy the houses of community residents on the school site and relocate those residents. Another $1 million in TIF funds paid for portable classroom trailers now being used for the East Baltimore Community School, which has been operating at the EBDI site for three years.

The school construction is also being funded through federal New Markets Tax Credits.

Rogers Marvel Architects of New York designed the school as a modular, open building that includes courtyards and large, airy “learning terraces” or classrooms designed for smaller classes of 20 students. There will be unique “teaching gardens” and a library located behind the facades of a series of historic rowhouses along Ashland Avenue.

The exterior of the school will include translucent glass so the building will “glow in the night,” EBDI officials told a city design review panel last year.

The main entrance of the facility will be just northeast of the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and hospital.

The East Baltimore Community School enrolled 260 students in kindergarten and five elementary and middle school grades during the just-concluded academic year. The school is run by a partnership between the Johns Hopkins University and Morgan State University that was approved last year by the Baltimore City Board of School Commissioners. EBDI ran the school for the first two years of its existence.

The school is located on the grounds of the former Elmer A. Henderson Elementary School at Wolfe and East Chase streets. Students are current and former residents of the Middle East community and offspring of Hopkins employees who work at the East Baltimore medical campus.

When the new charter school opens, the enrollment will expand to 540 student with priority slots offered to siblings of current students, families in surrounding public school zones and other students from around Baltimore, if space allows.

“We are planning a high-impact, high-quality school that will provide the children of East Baltimore with an outstanding educational experience that will prepare them for success in school and life,” said David Andrews, dean of the Johns Hopkins School of Education, in a statement last week.

Abutting the school site are hundreds of vacant, abandoned houses on 50 acres waiting to be demolished for the rest of the $1.8 billion EBDI redevelopment, whose third master plan in a decade is now at City Hall awaiting approval.

The redevelopment, the city’s most ambitious since the Charles Center-Inner Harbor project in the 1960s and 1970s, was originally expected to include a world-class biotech park of 1.1 million square feet in up to five buildings along with new housing and 6,500 permanent jobs.

Only one of the five biotech buildings has been built. The $100 million John G. Rangos Sr. building opened in 2008 and is 80 percent occupied. A site reserved for another biotech building is being used by the state to build a new lab for the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, replacing an outdated facility elsewhere in the city.

After nearly all of a planned 732 households have been relocated and more than 669 houses and other buildings have been demolished, the latest master plan calls for more than 120,000 square feet of new retail space, a 175-room hotel plus commercial development and a 6-acre green space in the midst of the 88 acres where residences once stood.

Monday’s school groundbreaking was cause for optimism among some city officials who held a press conference May 31 to blast EBDI for not providing promised jobs, local hiring and affordable housing at the site, as agreed to in an April 2002 document signed by then-Mayor Martin O’Malley and EBDI officials.

The elected officials said they would “shut down” EBDI immediately because the nonprofit had not complied with the agreement.

“We’re looking forward to the school,” City Councilman Carl Stokes, whose 12th District includes a portion of the EBDI footprint, said before the groundbreaking. “We look forward to it going up in a timely fashion at the same time families are moving in with children who will go there.”