Harbor tower proposed Maritime Institute plans expansion

September 29, 1992|By Edward Gunts | Edward Gunts,Staff Writer

A 65-foot-tall observation tower overlooking Baltimore's Inner Harbor is a key component of a $1.5 million expansion proposed for the Maritime Institute, a waterfront teaching center created two years ago to expose young people to the Chesapeake Bay.

Rapidly outgrowing their current facilities on Center Dock, a city-owned pier just off Lancaster and Caroline streets, the institute's operators are seeking funding and city approval to build the tower and an "environmental education pavilion" on the pier's western edge, where it would overlook the downtown skyline.

Besides including teaching and office space and the tower, the expansion would provide a library, an art gallery and a chandlery for Inner Harbor boaters. The tower would be lit dramatically at night and would have a wind vane and weather forecasting instruments at its top.

The wood-framed complex would also serve as a new headquarters for the Living Classrooms Foundation, the non-profit organization that launched the Maritime Institute in 1990.

The foundation's current headquarters, the Seven-Foot Knoll Lighthouse on Pier 5, would be restored as a museum and furnished to look the way it did when it was the home of lighthouse keeper Thomas Steinhise.

Now in a preliminary design stage, the Environmental Education Pavilion and Observation Tower would enable the maritime institute to expand its programs and build on its initial success, according to G. Dennis O'Brien, president of the Living Classrooms Foundation.

"This will be the nerve center and heart of our organization," he said. "It's a school without walls, a classroom without blackboards and teachers and all the rules. I hope it will be a model for what can be done" around the country.

The Maritime Institute is one of five ventures of the Living Classrooms Foundation, which provides hands-on educational programs that emphasize leadership and career development; cultural enrichment; and the history, economics and ecology of the bay.

The staff of 34 places special emphasis on education, job training and job placement for "at-risk" youths who have been in trouble with the law, people with physical disabilities and groups from diverse backgrounds.

Founded in 1985 as the Lady Maryland Foundation, the organization changed its name this year to reflect its broadening scope of activities. They include the lighthouse, a 100-acre llama farm in Harford County, and educational missions in Cambridge; Washington, D.C.; and in Delaware.

"Floating classrooms" include the Lady Maryland, a full-size replica of an 1880s pungy schooner, and the Mildred Belle, an authentic oyster buy-boat built in 1948.

Patterned after the Baltimore International Culinary College, the Maritime Institute was established to train teen-agers from Baltimore and the surrounding counties for jobs in the marine industry.

At present, the institute's hands-on learning programs aboard restored or rebuilt vessels expose more than 16,000 schoolchildren from five states to the Chesapeake Bay each year.

More than two dozen students have graduated from its six- and nine-month training programs in seamanship, navigation and the art of shipbuilding and repair.

Tomorrow, its staff and students will launch the Caleb W. Jones, the first of five vintage skipjacks the institute has agreed to restore, with financial aid from the state, for continued use by Maryland watermen.

The addition is being designed on a pro bono basis by RTKL Associates of Baltimore, with R. James Pett as project architect.

The addition would supplement a large wooden boat shed built for the institute two years ago.

The institute hopes to raise the $1.5 million from public and private sources and has already begun to meet with potential contributors, Mr. O'Brien said.

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