Creating a 'school without walls' Waterfront addition: Weinberg Education Center could be beacon of hope for thousands of young people.

Urban Landscape

November 02, 1995|By Edward Gunts | Edward Gunts,SUN STAFF

THE NEWEST addition to Baltimore's waterfront will be a beacon on the skyline -- a wooden pavilion accented by a 75-foot-tall observation tower that will be brightly lighted at night and visible from all directions.

Those responsible for its construction believe it will be a beacon of hope to the thousands of young people who will come through its doors every year.

The Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Education Center is the name of a $2 million "school without walls" that will rise on the western edge of the old Center Dock at Lancaster and Caroline streets, overlooking the Inner Harbor.

It's part of the Maritime Institute run by the Living Classrooms Foundation, a nonprofit educational organization that was founded in Baltimore 10 years ago.

The maritime institute's goal is to teach teen-agers from Baltimore and the surrounding counties about Maryland's waterfront and jobs related to it, such as boat carpentry, motor repair and boat handling.

Since 1990, it has exposed thousands of schoolchildren from five states to the Chesapeake Bay, during learning programs aboard historic vessels that have been built or restored by the foundation. Its "floating classrooms" include the Lady Maryland, a full-size replica of an 1880s pungy schooner, and the Mildred Belle, an authentic oyster "buyboat" built in 1948. It also has graduated dozens of students from six- and nine-month training programs in seamanship, navigation and the art of shipbuilding and repair.

At groundbreaking ceremonies this week, speakers extolled the center as a sign of hope for the Chesapeake Bay region -- and the young people who live here.

"The Living Classrooms Foundation is dedicated to providing experiential, hands-on education and job-training programs that motivate youths to learn by doing, so they succeed academically in the workplace and in their lives," said Executive Director James Piper Bond.

The Weinberg Center "will become the focal point for this mission. It will be a vehicle for reaching and empowering youths who are not successful in traditional classrooms."

Nancy S. Grasmick, state superintendent of schools, said the foundation "makes a real difference" in transforming children's lives because it exposes them to the real world, not esoteric concepts.

Slated for completion in May, the Weinberg Center will help meet the increased demand for the Living Classrooms Foundation's programs.

Participation has grown from 100 students involved in a single program in 1985 -- building the Lady Maryland -- to some 25,000 students a year enrolled in 20 programs that use 10 facilities.

Besides the observation tower, which will offer dramatic views of the Inner Harbor, the Weinberg building will house a computer resource center, science labs, a maritime library, a conference area and staff offices.

The center was designed on a pro bono basis by RTKL Associates, Maryland's largest architecture firm, with R. James Pett as project architect. It supplements a boat shed and marina facilities already on the pier.

Mr. Pett, an associate vice president of RTKL, said he wanted to design a complex that takes advantage of the Inner Harbor views and has a maritime feel, without being overly literal.

"I wanted it to have a sail-like quality, a boat-like quality," he said. "The other buildings on the site are more utilitarian. This one tries to be a little tonier, to have more spatial interest, to create a learning environment that's not a typical classroom."

The pavilion will be built largely with Douglas fir timbers recycled from a dismantled warehouse. The wood was donated by Maryland Lumber Co. and will make the building a symbol of creative recycling of old building materials.

The building was named after Harry and Jeanette Weinberg, whose charitable trust, the Weinberg Foundation, pledged $400,000 toward construction. Other funds came from the state's Juvenile Justice Department, $600,000; the Abell Foundation, $300,000; and the Middendorf Foundation, $50,000. Struever Bros. Eccles & Rouse is the builder.

Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke hailed the project, in Baltimore's Empowerment Zone, as a positive sign for the entire harbor front.

"A few years ago you could look around this area and see signs of despair," he said. "But now, as we look around we can see signs of hope If we work together and have a vision for making this a better city, that's how we'll make progress."

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