ANNAPOLIS -- With the faces of famous black Americans painted on its boarded-up windows, the old Wiley H. Bates High School stands as a symbol of frustration for many blacks here.

Some of them are seeking to renovate the building, which housed the county's only high school for blacks from 1931 to 1966. So far, however, county officials have been unwilling to help finance the multimillion-dollar project.

Jean Creek, president of the Anne Arundel County NAACP and the Save the Bates Foundation, has accused county officials of showing "the epitome of insensitivity and racism" to her groups' plan.

County officials insist that no final decisions have been made about the future of the abandoned building, located off Spa Road at the edge of downtown Annapolis, and several said they plan to request proposals from private developers. County Executive O. James Lighthizer said in a telephone interview this week that he would like to tear down the building and replace it with a community center that would include a memorial to Wiley H. Bates, the former black city alderman who helped create the school.

No private developers have contacted the county about the property, according to officials. Nonetheless, Claude Vannoy, the county executive's assistant for land use, said, "We want to put the property back on the tax rolls."

The 300 members of the Save the Bates Foundation fear that the county will sell the old school building to a developer with little or no commitment to the black community. Creek said the foundation wants to turn the building into a "community multiservice center" that would provide a low-rent "incubator" for new businesses, as well as rental space for job training, drug prevention, family counseling, day care and other community service programs.

The building "has great historical significance," Creek said, noting that Bates High School opened in 1931 when segregation kept all but a few black students from continuing their education beyond grade school.

Alderman Bates joined a few other black men in buying and donating land for the first countywide high school for black students. Teen-agers came from as far away as the Baltimore County line and "had to get there the best way they could," Creek said, because initially there were no buses for black students.

"Because they struggled so hard, we're not going to let it {the building} go now," said Creek, who graduated from Bates in 1963. "Our educational roots are in that building."

After the county integrated schools in 1966, the building was used as a junior high school until 1981 when the county school board decided the needed renovations were too expensive. Since then, it has stood abandoned. The county has wrestled with the fate of the building several times before, and study groups in the past have proposed uses that included housing.

"It's a waste to see {the building} just sit there and deteriorate, especially when there's such a need for cultural development and job training," said Mary Wiseman, a former Bates teacher.

The foundation's engineers estimate that removing asbestos and modernizing the school's heating, plumbing, wiring and other facilities would cost between $8 million and $10 million, Creek said. The foundation requested $2.5 million from the county and $2.5 million from the state, with hopes of obtaining the rest through loans and contributions.

So far, the foundation has raised about $20,000, Creek said. "We obviously can't do this without the county's support," she said, noting that state support will depend on county commitment.

Although the County Council has endorsed the idea of renovating Bates, it has not allocated funds to begin construction.

"It's a question of affordability," said Lighthizer, who said the initial $2.5 million would be a "foot in the door" and more county funds would be needed.

Creek is bitter that the county has found money for other capital improvements, such as a new swimming pool at Annapolis Senior High School.

"How can they justify $4 million for a swimming pool and tell us there's no money for this project?" Creek said. "That's the epitome of insensitivity and racism."

Lighthizer called the charge an "inflammatory comment."

Several other county officials said Creek's charge was unfair. "I don't think it was racism," said County Council member Maureen Lamb, who supported the Bates renovation. Other county projects "just had more support," she said.

Creek said the proposed community center would be self-supporting because the foundation has commitments from enough organizations to rent 100,000 of the building's 145,000 square feet. A projected $750,000 in annual rent payments would cover the building's operating expenses and renovation debt, she said.

Vannoy said he did not know whether the building could be self-supporting, but he had heard that "others around the county" expressed doubt.

No decision can be made about Bates' future until Annapolis finishes its citywide Critical Areas Plan, which may place restrictions on the use of 16 acres at the site, Vannoy said. After the city's plan is released and studied, the county will ask developers to submit plans for the building, according to county budget officer Marita Brown.

Kathleen Koch, the county's community developer administrator, said the Save the Bates Foundation "should definitely respond" to the county's request for proposals.

Bates High School "was a wonderful school, a fantastic school," Lamb said. "I hope we can turn it into something black people feel good about, with an appropriate memorial to Wiley H. Bates."