Baltimore Business Journal
By: Jessica Iannetta
With Thursday's groundbreaking for five more school construction projects, half of the schools set to be renovated or replaced as part of the massive $1.1 billion 21st Century Schools program are now open or under construction.
In total, 28 schools will be renovated or replaced as part of the project, which kicked off in 2014 and is being overseen by the Maryland Stadium Authority. The project remains on time and on budget, with the first two schools in the program, Fort Worthington Elementary and Middle School and Frederick Elementary School, opening to students in August 2017. Two more opened in April and another five will open before the current school year begins in September.
Thursday's groundbreaking ceremony was held at Arlington Elementary School in North Baltimore, one of the five schools that will start construction in the next phase of the program. Arlington, the Fairmount-Harford building, which houses the REACH! Partnership School, and John Ruhrah Elementary and Middle School will all be renovated. Calvin M. Rodwell and Bay-Brook elementary and middle schools will be completely replaced.
Eric Johnson, vice president of capital projects at the Maryland Stadium Authority, told the crowd that the program not only makes a huge difference to Baltimore students and teachers but also acts as an economic development driver for the whole city.
The program has promoted local spending initiatives through workforce development as well as through small business and Minority Business Enterprise participation. Through the first four projects, MBE spending is at 33 percent, he said. In addition, 163 city residents have been hired to work on those projects, exceeding initial expectations by 39 percent, Johnson said.
The fast progress of the massive program is a tribute to so many organizations working together toward a common goal, he noted.
"Together we are good stewards of taxpayer dollars and champions of economic development and neighborhood revitalization in the city," Johnson said. "It's really gratifying to serve the school children of Baltimore as well as to commemorate and celebrate this milestone and continue to enhance Baltimore schools with 21st century learning environments."
BCPS CEO Sonja Santelises said she never gets tired of groundbreakings but that the real reward comes when students get to start using the new schools. Santelises had visited the recently opened Dorothy I. Height Elementary School earlier that morning to see the summer programming going on and walked away impressed at how the students were using the renovated space.
"It was just verification to me that even though we will very soon gather with hard hats and shovels in front of mounds of dirt, do not underestimate the power that this project is bringing now to young people in Baltimore City," she said.
But as excited as officials were about the new construction, the students who will one day inhabit the buildings were even more thrilled.
Lanyia Whitehurst is a rising fourth grader at Calvin M. Rodwell Elementary School, which will become a combined middle and elementary school after the construction. Whitehurst told the crowd that she loves her school and enjoys all the academic and extra-curricular activities she's able to participate in. She's excited that the new building means that she'll be able to stay in the same place until high school.
"I love my school but I'm ready for the new building," she said. "I feel like Calvin Rodwell has prepared me to be successful wherever I may go in life. I may become a lawyer, a doctor, teacher or business owner. You never know, one day you may be working for me."
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