Bessie Bordenave said she’s more than just pleased that Howard County Public School System Superintendent Renee Foose signed an agreement with Howard County Executive Allan Kittleman to transfer the historic Harriet Tubman School building to the county.

“I am overwhelmed with joy,” said Bordenave, who graduated from Tubman in 1962. The school was an all-black high school that closed in 1965 after the desegregation of Howard County schools. It has been used for more than three decades as office and storage space for the school system’s maintenance and school construction departments.

“I can’t even begin to tell you how happy I was when I got the call from the county executive,” said Bordenave, who is also president of the Harriet Tubman Foundation of Howard County. “It just makes me realize that the county, the government [and] the citizens are working together to do something for all of the residents, not just a few, so that we can learn about each other’s history. We have been plugging away at this for years.”

As plans continue to become solidified, Bordenave said she believes ultimately people will be able to learn about the past culture of Howard County by visiting the Tubman building.

“We’re hoping we can move forward with this,” she said. “It’s just like anything — as you move forward you’re going to have a few bumps in the road. That doesn’t mean that you can’t still plug away. We’ve come this far.”

Years in the Making

Kittleman acknowledged that the agreement has been many years in the making.

“This is very important, and it’s certainly not something that’s happening because of me — it’s because of the community coming together,” he said. “This is something we’ve been working for many, many years.”

He said he was moved as he toured the building with Bordenave and other Tubman alumni. “It was so much fun for me to walk through these halls with former students and see the excitement in their eyes and to hear them tell the stories,” he said. “I don’t want that to go away. I want all of us to know about those stories forever, because Howard County wasn’t always the county we have today. It’s such an important part of our history that I don’t want it to take a backseat, ever.”

At a joint press conference held in front of the school on Oct. 16, Kittleman and Foose detailed an agreement between the board of education and the county that would transfer ownership of the building and surrounding property to the county to be preserved as a historic, educational and cultural center.

“I want this building behind us to be a place where people can come to remember, to celebrate, to acknowledge all of what has happened in the past,” said Kittleman.

Touching the Community

The press conference was not simply an announcement, but an important milestone in the history of the Harriet Tubman School and in the history of Howard County, said Ann De Lacy, vice chairman, Howard County Board of Education.

“I look forward to witnessing what this building will become in the coming months and years,” she said. “I look forward to seeing its potential as a gathering place for the entire community of Howard County.”

Terms of the agreement allow the school system to transition out of the building during the next 14 months. The county has agreed to help find new space for the school system functions that are currently housed in the 25,000-square-foot building.

In introducing the Howard County Public School System superintendent, a visibly pleased De Lacy said, simply, “Dr. Foose, you rock.”

Two-Phase Transition

The agreement outlines a plan for maintaining the historic significance of the former school building while allowing the school system to seamlessly continue the efficient operation of its school facility management functions.

“The county and the school system are jointly committed to transferring the building to the county as soon as possible, so that the process of converting it can begin,” said Foose. “The process will require a two-phase transition, so that the school system operations currently based at this location will be able to continue functioning.”

Currently the school system’s building services and school construction departments maintain their offices and equipment in the Tubman building. “These operations are essential to the day-to-day functioning of the school system and cannot be suspended for any length of time,” she said.

For the first phase, the county has committed to providing the school system with a temporary site where these operations will relocate while a more permanent site is prepared. “The school system and the county government have already begun to coordinate this transition process,” said Foose.

Once the move to that temporary site is complete, the county will build a more permanent site for these operations.