Banner School to take over Monocacy Valley Montessori building on Dill Avenue

Apr. 28—The Banner School, a private school that's been on North Market Street in Frederick for decades, will soon have a new home.

The school is moving downtown to 217 Dill Ave., a former church that currently houses Monocacy Valley Montessori Public Charter School.

Monocacy Valley Montessori is expanding to offer high school next year, and purchased a building at 64 Thomas Johnson Drive. Both moves are scheduled to happen over the summer, before the start of the next school year.

Michele Hassanyeh, president of Banner's board of trustees, said Banner's move — which will take the school from the outskirts of downtown Frederick to the heart of it — was a "milestone" for the school.

"Downtown Frederick provides such a great chance to integrate with the community in lots of different ways," she said.

For 30 years, Banner has operated out of a multi-building campus at 1730 N. Market St., near Rose Hill Manor and Gov. Thomas Johnson High School.

During most of that time, the school rented its facilities from the Independent Order of Odd Fellows (IOOF), a fraternal organization founded in 19th-century England.

From 1926 until the early 2000s, the Odd Fellows ran a home for the elderly on the North Market Street campus.

The Banner School has long wanted to own, rather than rent, its facilities, Hassanyeh said. It entered a contract to purchase the land from the Odd Fellows beginning in 2018, but a series of disputes over the sale stymied the school's efforts.

The school filed suit against the Odd Fellows last year, alleging the organization had blocked the sale and improperly refused to return a $200,000 deposit.

But the school withdrew the suit later that year.

Reached by phone this week, Laura Teate, secretary of the Odd Fellows' Grand Lodge of Maryland, said Banner's description of the dispute was "not accurate in any form," but declined to provide further details.

The Odd Fellows never filed a response to the school's lawsuit.

Duffie Cos., a real estate development firm, purchased the land instead. State property records show that the sale happened on Nov. 14, 2022, and the purchase price was $2.72 million.

The Banner School's facilities are currently surrounded by construction zones.

"Ultimately, we are glad for Duffie Companies to replace the IOOF as our landlord and have benefited from multiple levels of support from Duffie Companies," Hassanyeh wrote in an email.

Hassanyeh said the building on Dill Avenue would have about twice the useable space compared to the school's current facility, despite the new space seeming significantly smaller on paper.

That's because deferred maintenance by the Odd Fellows means "a lot of square footage is off limits" in the North Market Street buildings, Hassanyeh wrote in an email.

On an FAQ page on its website, the school says its current facility needs three new slate roofs and three new boilers, plus refurbished windows, doors and learning spaces.

"[I]t would cost far more than the school could reasonably raise over the next 5 years," the FAQ page says of the needed repairs.

The larger useable square footage will allow the school to expand its enrollment from 160 students to 250, the website says.

When looking for a new building, Hassanyeh said, the school was determined not to leave the city of Frederick.

The Dill Avenue site was ideal because it was already set up as a school, she added, and had "really large and interesting classroom spaces."

It also offers a large auditorium and about 1,500 square feet of art studio space, Hassanyeh said.

Initially, Hassanyeh said, officials had concerns about the lack of dedicated green space on the new property. Those were largely assuaged by the building's close proximity to Baker Park, which would be a short walk for students.

School officials don't anticipate any major changes to the layout of the Dill Avenue facility before the start of the new school year, the website says.

On its website, Monocacy Valley Montessori says the building is in "poor condition due to deferred maintenance issues."

But Hassanyeh said Banner trustees felt "really confident about the state" of the building.

"We have estimates previously provided to the current owners for repairs and updates to various systems. Additionally, we will conduct infrastructure tours with licensed contractors to ensure we have a full understanding of electric, plumbing and HVAC needs," Banner's FAQ page says. "As we determine the need and schedule for maintenance, repair, or upgrade of any system, the work will be managed as part of Facilities operations."

Ultimately, Hassanyeh said students and parents were optimistic about the new space, which school officials hope will be a permanent home.

"There's a sense of excitement and anticipation," she said.