Baltimore: Some Good News

Baltimore 2015! The City of the Orioles, Francis Scott Key, Diner (the movie) the Inner Harbor and “hon” needs hope and help. Here’s a story that Green News Update published in March 2014 about East Baltimore. It’s a powerful story of how hope and help came together. We need dozens and hundreds more projects like the Henderson-Hopkins School that are about about kids, families, education,  building community –and hope.  Read and be inspired!

Henderson Hopkins Schoolat night Courtesy Rogers Partners

Henderson-Hopkins School, Baltimore  (center) at night. Courtesy Rogers Partners

Baltimore: School as Community Centerpiece: East Baltimore’s tough neighborhoods were once prominent in the TV police procedurals Homicide-Life in the City and The Wire. But a new reality appears to be on the way. Henderson-Hopkins, a brand-new K-8 school just north of Johns Hopkins’ East Baltimore Medical Campus, aims to be much more – a linchpin for the neighborhood surrounding it that includes library, community center, gym and auditorium—plus the benefits of an economic development generator.  It’s the first new public school in Baltimore in more than 20 years. There’s more in the overall 88-acre, $1.8 billion redevelopment program master planned by Sasaki Associates –– mixed-income housing, retail, a hotel, park and some new science-tech buildings for Johns Hopkins. 

Bright and spacious a good learning environment at Henderson Hopkins School Courtesy Rogers Partners

Bright and spacious — a good learning environment at Henderson-Hopkins School Courtesy Rogers Partners

At the time it was first master planned, this section of East Baltimore was 70-80% vacant housing, says Chris Shea, who has spent the past half-dozen years as head of East Baltimore Development Inc Disinvestment and decline occurred over a period of decades: People fled to the suburbs, kids grew up and left, jobs at Sparrow Point (the steel plant) dried up. There were riots, and there was the crack epidemic. The process to bring back this area took time and input:  civic groups, elected officials, the city council and others all agreed, “We have to do something.”

There’s much to like about this school-cum-community asset – not least, it recreates neighborhood fabric with interior streets and courtyards. The school buildings are low-rise. Architect Vince Lee of NYC’s Rogers Partners (a University of Maryland grad) grouped classroom areas by age and grade, each grouping with a commons area or meeting space, tall ceilings (up to 30 feet) and generous natural lighting that comes from tall clerestory windows. Green mavens know that natural lighting enhances learning (research shows that) and is a world-class energy reducer.  It’s designed to comply with the Baltimore Green for Schools certification requirements.

Open and soaring spaces complemented by a

Open and soaring spaces complemented by a “quirky” color palette. Courtesy of Rogers Partners.

Spaces such as the gym, library and auditorium are intentionally designed with exterior-facing entrances to make it easier to use for community activities. The seven-acre site — the school is about 90,000 square feet — has room to grow, with playing fields and open spaces, and a minimum of parking. Learn more.

Look at all the natural light in the classroom. Courtesy of Rogers Partners

Look at all the natural light in the classroom. Courtesy of Rogers Partners.

Make no mistake – this is a city public school that must meet curricular standards, but with a twist. Its partners include Johns Hopkins University with Morgan State University (historically African-American institution) whose academic divisions in education and the STEM skills are sharing their expertise.

Exterior rendering of the campus

Rendering of the campus. Concrete panels were pre-formed and brought onsite. Note the distinctive stain used on the panels.

A 30,000-square-foot child care center underwritten by the Weinberg Foundation at a cost of $10 million – for children as young as 6 weeks – gives kids a head start and reliable care for moms and parents who work.

None of this came fast or  cheap. It has taken time (about ten years), buying and clearing homes in the neighborhood, asbestos/lead removal, site prep and securing the funding (not the city school district!) from Hopkins and several of Baltimore’s richest foundations (Annie E. Casey Foundation, Weinberg Foundation and Windsong ). Headstart and Medicaid services will bolster government budgets for operations.

There’s more to do in the next half dozen years –an 8-acre park soon under construction, more incentivized workforce housing, and a full-scale grocery. It’s a new beginning for East Baltimore. Read more in the New York Times. Go to the school’s web site. Keep Baltimore, and all its residents,  in your thoughts and prayers –roll up your sleeves and  get to work!