Rescuing old schools

July 31, 1992

Pigtown, near the new Oriole Park on the far side of the Martin Luther King Boulevard, has been deteriorating for years. The new stadium may yet have a salutary effect on the appearance of housing along Washington Boulevard, but little improvement is evident so far. For that reason the reconstruction of a century-old school at Washington Boulevard and South Carey Street is a welcome development.

A $2 million project will transform the old School No. 34 by early next year into Barrister Court Apartments, providing housing for low- and moderate-income citizens under the state's Partnership Rental Program. It will be the seventh such school conversion in Baltimore City in a partnership with the state.

At a time when many of the tax credits that once encouraged historical preservation no longer exist, this school conversion program has produced some wonderful examples of adaptive reuse of older buildings. Significantly, Betty Jean Murphy, the developer working in Pigtown, was honored last year by Baltimore Heritage for her respectful conversion of the former Louisa May Alcott Elementary School on Reisterstown Road. That Victorian structure was turned into a 44-unit apartment complex for low-income elderly residents.

In Pigtown, Ms. Murphy plans to follow the concept that made that conversion so successful, retaining reminders of the building's original use and history.

An original chalkboard will serve as a message center across from the mailboxes.

The classroom numbers on the doors will take on a new meaning as they identify the apartments. Period lighting will be used in the hallways.

The building itself will be totally contemporary, however, with modern amenities and state of the art security systems.

Schools are centerpieces of their neighborhoods. When they are abandoned and boarded up, the whole community wonders about their future.

As an apartment complex, the reconstructed School No. 34 will be an asset to Pigtown -- and a constant reminder of future redevelopment possibilities there.

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