Dingy houses given new life

Urban Landscape

Resourceful: An imaginative effort uses old buildings, new designs to create a home for agencies that help people with HIV and AIDS.

November 25, 1999|By Edward Gunts | Edward Gunts,SUN STAFF

OVER THE past century, the three-story buildings on Maryland Avenue in midtown Baltimore have housed private residences, a woodworking shop, a plumbing and heating supplier, and a series of antiques stores.

But they will start the next century with a new use -- a "one-stop shop" for people living with HIV and AIDS.

"The Maryland Community Resource Center" is the formal name of the $4.2 million facility, which was created in and around five 1890s-era rowhouses in the 1700 block of Maryland Ave. at Falls Road.

It will be the home for four organizations that offer education, legal counseling and other services -- the Health Education Resource Organization (HERO), the Black Educational AIDS Project, the People with AIDS/HIV Coalition and Churches United Against AIDS.

Other groups will have satellite offices, including AIDS Residential Services and Healthcare for the Homeless.

"After 10 years of temporary locations, it's wonderful to have this space," said Bill Smith, director of the HERO Resource Center, a division of HERO. "This is our first permanent home, and it's marvelous."

The building at 1734 Maryland Ave. is more spacious and functional than HERO's previous quarters in the Medical Arts building on Read Street, said Dr. Leonardo Ortega, HERO's director.

"The architect did a terrific job working with our staff," he said. "You have a beautiful flow [of spaces]. And it's very convenient to bus lines, light rail and even the train station."

Besides upper-level offices for the service organizations and meeting rooms for clients, the center provides meals, showers and laundry facilities and a day care center where children can stay while their parents are receiving services elsewhere in the building.

Services include legal assistance, employment training, human immunodeficiency virus education and counseling in areas of housing, substance abuse and mental health. On the first level, a copy center has been created to provide job training.

The design, by Amos, Bailey & Lee, is resourceful as well.

Although the five rowhouses were constructed as separate homes, they have been connected internally so staffers and clients can move easily from one area to another. The exteriors have been restored and painted one color, to indicate that it is one facility.

To provide barrier-free access to the center, the architect created an addition directly south of the connected rowhouses, on a vacant lot that once contained a gas station.

The addition contains an entrance lobby, elevator tower and boardroom with a picturesque view of the train tracks and downtown skyline. Its exterior is made of materials different from those of the brick rowhouses, including masonry block and corrugated metal.

Architect James Arnold, principal in charge for Amos, Bailey & Lee, said he wanted to make the addition different architecturally because it faces Falls Road and the rail corridor, which is industrial.

"Falls Road becomes something very different than what Maryland Avenue is," he said. "We wanted the addition to turn the corner and relate to Falls Road and the railroad tracks. It's a wonderful urban site."

Arnold said the rowhouses turned out to be in far worse condition than he expected and were difficult to restore. Some members of the development team suggested that they be demolished and replaced with a new building, but he said he wanted to save them if possible and is glad they survived.

Arnold said that the resource center, with 80 staffers and hundreds of visitors a week, can be a catalyst for additional redevelopment in the area and that several nearby rowhouses have been fixed up by new retail tenants.

Three buildings in the 1800 block of Maryland Ave. will soon be restored to provide housing for people with HIV and acquired immune deficiency syndrome in a program that will be run by Project PLASE, said Michael Dwyer, program manager for Baltimore's office of homeless services.

Funding for the resource center included $2.9 million from a federal grant awarded to the city of Baltimore; $1 million from the state and $400,000 from community donations.

Whiting-Turner Contracting Co. was the construction manager, and Savannah Development was the project developer. The center will be open for business starting Monday. The occupants will hold an open house from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Wednesday, World AIDS Day.

Pub Date: 11/25/99

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