Midtown Academy will acquire its building, stay in Bolton Hill for now

A math class at Midtown Academy

After a nerve-wracking year of looking for alternatives, the leaders of Midtown Academy last month breathed a sigh of relief and announced that the public charter school will remain at its Bolton Hill location for another couple of years.

“Our school community is grateful to be part of this vibrant neighborhood, and that we’ll continue to be for the next few years,” said Whitney Birenbaum, vice-president of Midtown’s board of directors.

In 2023, Corpus Christi Catholic Church leaders informed Midtown that it would end the lease arrangement that allowed the charter school to occupy the building that shares a lot with the church rectory and faces Mt. Royal Avenue. It had been there since 1997, in a building that once was a Catholic school. With just under 200 students, it’s the smallest of the 31 charter schools in the city.

In an ironic turn of events, the Corpus Christi church itself is now likely to close under the Archdiocese of Baltimore’s citywide downsizing plan. Midtown was able, on the heels of that announcement by Catholic leadership, to forge an agreement with the archdiocese to acquire the building the school now occupies, along with the rectory. The board hopes to finalize the deal and make physical improvements in the coming weeks, as both buildings need repairs and upgrades.

Unlike traditional public schools, public charter school operators must arrange their own building occupancy and assure that the building adheres to the city building code. Under its contract with BCPS, Midtown receives public funds on a per capita basis tied to student enrollment but must fundraise to meet operating expenses that in traditional public schools are covered, such as maintenance, landscaping and janitorial services.

Public charter schools may not charge students tuition nor discriminate in  admissions policies. About half of Midtown’s students come from Bolton Hill, Reservoir Hill or nearby. In 2022 tax filings, Midtown showed operating expenses of about $2.4 million.

Board members for Midtown spent months exploring possible new locations both in and outside of Bolton Hill. In addition to the agreement with the archdiocese, they have entered into a tentative agreement with the city to obtain ownership, at some point in the future, of a larger former middle school building in Guilford.

In a letter to parents, the Midtown board said, “Midtown Academy will remain here at the Corpus Christi building until renovations are completed at Guilford, which we anticipate will be two years.” Once the larger location is ready, Midtown likely will leave Bolton Hill. Kimberly Davis is Midtown’s principal.

–Bill Hamilton