JHU contributes $1.6M in renovations for two Baltimore schools

More than 750 public school students in Baltimore's Charles Village returned to classes this year in buildings that are safer, more functional, more attractive, and better suited for learning, thanks to $1.6 million in summer upgrades.

Half the rapid renovations at Margaret Brent and Barclay elementary and middle schools were donated by Johns Hopkins. Baltimore City Public Schools matched the university's contribution, allowing the two schools to replace badly worn, inadequate, out-of-date restrooms; renovate their cafeterias; create more welcoming, attractive, and secure entrances; and install windows and doors to admit more natural light.

In addition, Barclay now has improved handicapped access and a renovated, more efficient kitchen. New doors and a security system were installed at the former Barclay Recreation Center, attached to the school and now operated by Greater Homewood Community Corp. as the 29th Street Community Center. New renovations at Margaret Brent include heating and air conditioning repairs. The Brent gymnasium has also been renovated, thanks to a separate gift from the family of Baltimore native and Memphis Grizzlies guard Josh Selby.

"Our goal is for these schools to be great choices for all neighborhood families," says Karen Stokes, executive director of Greater Homewood Community Corp., which over the past three years has put together roughly $3 million in resources to strengthen six North Baltimore schools academically and physically.

"In order for us to build on the progress we've made at Barclay and Margaret Brent, some immediate physical improvements were needed, and we are thrilled that Johns Hopkins and the school system have stepped up," Stokes says.

The upgrades at both schools—approved in April, begun in May, and completed at lightning speed over summer vacation—are designed to be compatible with planned future renovations, which are part of the district's 21st-Century Buildings Plan but remain several years out.

"The renovations at these two schools are so exciting because they communicate that we care about and value our students and teachers," says Tisha Edwards, interim CEO of city schools. "They also are prime examples of critical efforts under way in the district right now to leverage the talents, expertise, and resources of our communities and partners to strengthen student achievement, and to provide the high-quality learning environments necessary to support that achievement. On behalf of city schools, my deep and sincere thanks to Johns Hopkins, Greater Homewood Community Corp., and the entire Charles Village and Homewood communities for your commitment to our children."

Barclay and Margaret Brent, both located blocks from the Johns Hopkins Homewood campus, are critical to the Homewood Community Partners Initiative, university President Ronald J. Daniels says. Johns Hopkins has committed a total of $10 million to that project, launched in December. HCPI is designed to reinvigorate 10 area neighborhoods; build a vibrant, livable urban center; and attract 3,000 new resident families over the next 10 years.

The $800,000 that Johns Hopkins contributed to the schools' summer renovations is its largest HCPI expenditure to date. The university also plans to channel funds into academic support for both schools—part of an effort by a variety of partners to make them schools of choice for neighborhood households and an attraction for new residents, including university faculty and staff members.

"High-performing schools are at the heart of healthy neighborhoods, and our entire community is stronger for the results of this remarkable collaboration," Daniels says. "That's as good for Johns Hopkins as it is for each one of our neighbors.

"Not all of HCPI's work will be done at this breakneck pace," he says. "But I want to thank each of our partners—particularly the school system—for their all-out efforts to support this summer's renovations. The results are truly astounding."

Both Edwards and Daniels also commend Greater Homewood Community Corp., which has served as a nonprofit partner to local public schools for more than 20 years. GHCC launched the Great Schools Charles Village initiative at Margaret Brent and Barclay in 2011. The program is funded in part by the Goldseker Foundation and has broad support from the community.

"We talk about the power of 'Strength in Neighbors.' I can think of no better illustration of that idea than the effort our partners have put into these two schools," Daniels says.

A ribbon cutting was held at Margaret Brent on Aug. 28 to formally unveil the projects in the two schools.

"You've given us something to be proud about, said Pamela Smith, principal of Margaret Brent. "We feel cared for."

Taila Garrison, a sixth-grader at that school, marveled at the improvements that were made. Speaking at the event, she said, "The first floor was in my opinion boring. The floor was always wet and sticky and the paint was chipping." Now, she said, "the cafeteria? I think it's beautiful. We all have our personal space. The windows are amazing. I'm just amazed at what has been accomplished. I just hope the partners will be able to renovate the second floor as well."

She received sustained applause for her upbeat speech.

To track the progress of the schools, go to http://greatschoolscharlesvillage.org.