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August 10, 2012

Montessori school signs lease with Canal Place

Authority says it’s ‘tickled’ with center’s new occupant

Kristin Harty Barkley Cumberland Times-News

CUMBERLAND — The newest tenant at the Shops at Canal Place isn’t actually a shop — it’s a school.

But officials believe that Beginnings Montessori School, which signed a five-year lease on Wednesday for about 3,000 square feet of space, will bring the kind of energy that the struggling center needs to thrive.

“We’re tickled that they’ll be in here,” said Dee Dee Ritchie, executive director of the Canal Place Preservation and Development Authority.

“There’s going to be more parents down there, more people … I can understand some of the apprehension about the fact that it’s not a (shop), but the way we’re looking at it is they basically have an outdoor classroom right there for them to be able to incorporate that into their program. I think that will be awesome.”

The 35-year-old school, which has operated for the last decade from the downtown YMCA at 205 Baltimore St., is moving because it’s expanding and needs more space, said board member Jennifer Amendolara.

Around 30 prekindergarten and kindergarten students attend Beginnings, and for the first time this year, classes are being offered for about 15 students in grades one through three.

Next year, plans are to add grades four through six.

“We needed the space for growth, and we wanted more green space,” said Amendolara, adding that school officials considered a number of locations, but chose Canal Place because of opportunities it offers for environmental education and community partnerships.

Plans are to work with the National Park Service and other local groups, including Tri-State Council for the Arts and Evergreen Heritage Center, to offer workshops for the community, Amendolara said.

“We want to get the positive word out that we’re not taking it over,” she said. “We want to work with the community and bring people down there … We’re not just down there for us.”

The school, which opened in 1978, follows the teaching methods of Dr. Maria Montessori, an Italian physician who developed the concept that “children learn best by doing, not by passively accepting other people’s ideas and preexisting  knowledge,” according to the school’s website.

The Montessori Method, which encourages individual initiative, is used in more than 600 schools in the United States alone.

At Beginnings, where classes are scheduled to start on Aug. 27, tuition costs around $3,000 per year.

“They’ve already moved in, and they’re doing renovations,” Ritchie said.

The new school’s location, in Building B of the Shops, was leased years ago by the Allegany Arts Council, Ritchie said. More recently, Cumberland Trail Connection had rented a portion of the space for storage, she said.

Ritchie said that Cumberland Trail Connection owner Doug Hutchins signed a 10-year lease renewal on Wednesday, as well.

That means one-and-a-half store fronts remain vacant, she said.

“There’s a lot of interest happening there right now,” Ritchie said, adding that she’s getting ready to submit a grant application for a new train-themed playground at Canal Place.

“We feel really good about what’s going on out here.”

Contact Kristin Harty Barkley at