Wednesday, 11 December 2013 13:01

Former Turner Station resident Glord McGuire is fighting to save the front facade of the former Sollers Point school.
photo by Roland Dorsey

Demolition of former school now underway

by Nicole Rodman

Glord McGuire knows he faces an uphill battle.
    The former Turner Station resident stood outside of the former Sollers Point Technical High School building last Thursday protesting the ongoing demolition of the former school building.
    Braced against the December wind, McGuire stood — at first alone — waving a large sign bearing the words “Stop!! Historic Landmark. Save the Facade to Sollers Point Senior High School.”
    For hours McGuire stood, undeterred even as the building he was fighting to preserve was being torn down behind him.
    And though he stood alone, McGuire was quick to note that he is not the only one hoping to preserve the old building.
    “There’s a lot of people upset that can’t stand to look at the building,” he explained.
    McGuire moved to Turner Station at the age of seven. He attended Sollers Point Junior and Senior High School from grades 8 to 12.
    The school first opened its doors in 1948 during the era of segregation and originally served as a school for the community’s African-American students.
    With the end of segregation in the mid-1960s, Sollers Point became a vocational school.
    With this fall’s opening of the new Sollers Point Technical High School, (located on a dual campus with Dundalk High School) the old building was slated for demolition.
    According to Baltimore County, the site of the former school will be cleared to make way for playing fields and a parking lot that will serve the new Sollers Point Multipurpose Center next door.
    With demolition at the site already underway, McGuire is hoping to at least preserve the front facade of the building as a monument to the school’s history.
    Under McGuire’s proposal, the front entranceway to the school building would be preserved and anchored in place. Any new development would be built behind this facade.
    “The front is still there, there is still time,” McGuire said.   
    Standing in protest last Thursday, McGuire was quickly joined by former Turner Station resident Raheemah Raheem (formerly Catherine Burrell-Jones).
    Raheem attended Sollers Point Junior and Senior High School from 1948 to 1954.
    She expressed her feelings about the demolition of the school in a poem she wrote entitled “M.O.M. My Other Mother.”
    “They used her, one night abused her. Leveled her. She was all our community had,” the first stanza read.
    For McGuire and Raheem, the building is a testament to a school that, despite laboring under the weight of segregation, still managed to offer superior education to thousands of African-American students.
    “When this school was two years old, we got an 86 percent rating nationwide,” Raheem explained. “We were excelling nationwide.”
    “We had the best black teachers you could find,” she added, noting, “There were records in this school that no one ever beat.”
    In addition to the historic value of the former school, McGuire and Raheem  argued that the building continues to serve as a hub for the community.
    “This was our shelter right here,” Raheem explained. “That was where people went when the storms came.”
    For McGuire and Raheem, their anguish at watching the building fall was etched on their faces.
    “It’s a lot of pain,” McGuire explained. “When you see it down like that it’s like taking a piece away from me.”
    “It’s like cutting off a finger,” Raheem added.
    As last Thursday’s protest wore on, two more protesters eventually joined the effort.
    One of them, Turner Station resident Ira Sutton, is far too young to have experienced legal segregation himself, but he noted that he appreciates the historical value of the former Sollers Point building.
    “It’s an icon,” he said.
    While there are a number of voices opposing the loss of the school building, there are also those who see the demolition as a sign of progress.
    As Maurisha Graves-White argued during last week’s protest, the old Sollers Point building was outdated and “wasn’t able to provide education for students.”
    While she serves as president of the Turner Station Recreation Council, Graves-White was quick to note that she was expressing her views not as a member of the council but as a resident of Turner Station.
    “We had meetings for years, and many people came out,” she said, claiming widespread community support for the demolition of the former school.
    Though she attended the school when it was a vocational center, for Graves-White, the old building has outlived its usefulness.
    She sees the county’s new plans for the site, including tennis courts and athletic fields, as more beneficial to the community.
    “With growth comes change,” she noted.
    To which Sutton countered, “Change is not always good.”
    For their part, Baltimore County officials have no plans to preserve the school’s facade, though there are plans to repurpose some of the building’s bricks.
    “The new community center features a history center that includes memorabilia from the school,” county spokeswoman Ellen Kobler told The Eagle last week. “We are also working closely with the community on a design feature that will retain and use some bricks from the building as part of the park amenities.
    She continued, “This plan has considerable community support and retaining the front wall of the community center is not part of the plan.”
    Though the odds are stacked against them, McGuire and Raheem will continue to fight to preserve what they see as the heart of the Turner Station community.
    They urge others who feel as they do to contact local officials and make their voices heard.
    All we can do now is contact different people,” McGuire concluded. “I guess this is the last effort right here.”