Office space, just a shuttle ride away

Recycling: The former Eastern High School opens as a less-than-a-mile-away wing of Johns Hopkins University.

Architecture

May 14, 2001|By Edward Gunts | Edward Gunts,SUN ARCHITECTURE CRITIC

While demolition crews take down the last of Baltimore's Memorial Stadium, a city landmark across the street has been given a chance to shine again.

Baltimore's former Eastern High School, closed to students in 1986, has reopened this spring as the anchor for a new satellite campus for the Johns Hopkins University.

Hopkins acquired the high school in 1996 and has invested $28 million to convert it and the surrounding property to an administrative center called Johns Hopkins at Eastern.

Although many former city schools have been converted to apartments, this is one of the first times locally that a surplus high school has been transformed into office space.

The goal, Hopkins officials say, is to use the mammoth building at 1101 E. 33rd St. to house administrative departments that could be moved away from the heart of the Homewood campus, freeing up space for expansion of academic programs and student services. A shuttle operates between Johns Hopkins at Eastern and the Homewood campus, which are ninth-tenths of a mile apart.

Offices for the university's treasurer and controller are on the second floor. Starting today, Hopkins' Office of Human Services will be consolidated on the first floor. Part of the property has been turned into playing fields for the football, soccer and lacrosse teams. Still to come are Hopkins Internal Audits, Hopkins Information Technology Services and Johns Hopkins Real Estate, the division that was responsible for the conversion.

In all, more than 75 percent of the space at Eastern will be filled by university personnel - 450 of the 600 people expected to work there. The top floor will be leased to the Baltimore Development Corp., which plans to open a high-tech business incubator. Another non-Hopkins tenant will be the Independent College Fund of Maryland, a nonprofit organization which is moving from Charles Village.

"All of the dominoes were set in motion by the need to vacate space on the Homewood campus," explained Charles Weinstein, project director for Johns Hopkins Real Estate. "It's the proximity to the Homewood campus that makes it so easy. It's very convenient."

"It's a wonderful reuse of this building," said Donald Kann, principal of Kann & Associates, one of two local architecture firms that worked on the project. "There aren't many projects nationally that have been done on this scale."

The 200,000-square-foot building opened in 1938, one of two all-girls schools in Baltimore. The structure is H-shaped in plan, with courtyards in the front and rear. The exterior is made of brick and limestone, and the interior has terrazzo floors and walls in the main corridors made of glazed brick. Large windows offer a variety of striking views, including Baltimore's downtown skyline, the former Memorial Stadium property across 33rd Street, and Hopkins' Bayview, Broadway and Homewood campuses.

Kann and Associates is the architect responsible for restoring the building's exterior and developing a strategy for reusing the interior. Colimore/Clarke and Associates is the designer of the interior space for individual Hopkins departments.

The $28 million cost includes $9 million to restore the building's shell, $5 million to $6 million for tenant improvements, and $2 million to remove lead paint and asbestos. As part of the site preparations, Hopkins had to extend its fiber optic network from the Homewood campus to Eastern and replace underground utilities.

Kann designed the building to comply with federal standards for historic preservation, so the project would be eligible for preservation tax credits. That meant restoring the exterior, including its steel windows, and preserving the original appearance of the main corridors. Restoration of the steel windows involved replacement of 24,000 window panes and installation of new interior storm windows.

When school buildings are converted to apartment complexes, developers can usually create a residence within the walls of a former classroom. But because the university's administrative offices vary in size and continue to change over time, the designers had to find a way to create more flexible spaces. They did that by removing the interior walls that separated the classrooms from each other, but not significantly changing the corridors that lead to the classrooms. They even kept the same rhythm of door openings along the main hallways, even though some doors are now fixed in place.

"As the public sees it, it's still a school environment," Weinstein said.

Kann said the designers were fortunate because they were able to refer to the original construction drawings. One of the architects' biggest feats was inserting a second floor of office space in the former gymnasium, without changing the building's exterior.

Although the building was in bad shape when Hopkins acquired it, Kann said, the basic concrete structure was sound and the contractors were able to reuse the original stairs and terrazzo floors.

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