Southern Supply warehouse to be renovated into health center


November 24, 1994|By Edward Gunts | Edward Gunts,Sun Staff Writer

Considering the many old buildings in downtown Baltimore that are vacant and need repair, the former warehouse at 315 to 319 N. Calvert Street may not immediately come to mind as a prime candidate for a multimillion-dollar renovation.

Built in 1923 by the Southern Supply Co. to store construction materials, grain, and other goods, the four-story, brick-clad structure is neither an individual landmark nor part of an historic district.

Its only noteworthy facade is the side facing Calvert Street, with a modified pediment and diamond-shaped ornaments made of porcelain. Even that was marred in the 1970s, when Maryland National Bank took it over for office space and filled in the street level openings with unsightly gray bricks.

By next July, however, this remnant from another era will reopen as Baltimore's latest example of creative recycling.

Mercy Medical Center, the 287-bed institution that occupies the block just west of the warehouse, bought it from the bank in 1992 and has begun converting it to a $2.25 million Community Health Center.

The 71-year-old building will contain all of the outpatient clinics 00 now within the hospital, serving adults and children. It also will be a training site for the University of Maryland School of Medicine.

Funded with the help of a $950,000 state grant, the project is Mercy's first major expansion since a $10 million physicians' office building was opened in 1990.

Mercy plans to construct a 435-space, $4.6 million garage on the north end of the block, making its total investment nearly $7 million.

"This is part of a trend to move to more of a community setting and take care of patients on an ambulatory basis," explained Samuel Moskowitz, vice president for strategic planning and corporate services. He said it's better for people to get periodic check-ups rather than seek care only in emergencies.

"This will be a discrete and identifiable health care facility that people who would ordinarily go to an emergency room will now be able to go to, and not tax the emergency room," he said. "We're trying to develop this as a primary care site for people who live and work in downtown Baltimore."

The noninstitutional look of the former warehouse can work to Mercy's advantage, planners say, because it is not as potentially intimidating as the main hospital, yet the building is just as accessible.

Administrators explored various options, among which were expanding on a lot across Saratoga Street and demolishing the Southern Supply building and replacing it. But they concluded that the reinforced concrete building was worth retaining

because it is sound, spacious, flexible and "has some history to it," said Mitchell Alguadich, the project management consultant for Mercy.

The 30,000-square-foot building is so large that only the first two floors will be remodeled initially, leaving the top two floors available for expansion, he added.

James Colimore, a partner of Colimore Clarke Associates, the architects for the conversion, said the building has the same solid construction as the Candler Building, the former McCormick spice plant and other industrial structures built after the 1904 fire in Baltimore. "Even its roof is concrete."

He said its style is rather unusual for Baltimore -- "somewhere between a classic warehouse and Art Deco." The materials "have stood up pretty well," he added. "The porcelain is still white after 70 years."

Colimore Clarke's design calls for the hospital's contractor to open up the facade by removing the gray bricks and replacing them with glass. The architects also specified new windows for the upper levels to produce a more contemporary feel.

The Calvert Street facade will be cleaned; a canopy will be installed over the entrance; trees will be planted in front, and banners will hang from the side of the building.

When the trees are in place and activity is visible inside, "it will really change the look of the block," Mr. Colimore said.

Struever Bros., Eccles and Rouse is the contractor for the health center. RTKL Associates Inc. is the graphics designer. Desman Parking designed the nine-level garage, and J. Vinton Schafer & Sons will build it.

To make room for the garage, Mercy is razing two four-story buildings at the north end of the block. Unlike the Southern Supply building, they were in poor condition structurally and were not cost-efficient to salvage, Mr. Alguadich said.

Work on the garage was scheduled to begin by the end of this month and be complete by next fall.

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