Landmarks of failure

Baltimore: Boarded-up apartments underscore officials' neglect in overseeing managers.

March 08, 2002

A CORNERSTONE of Baltimore's 1970s urban renaissance has crumbled. Six schoolhouses, renovated with taxpayers' money into subsidized apartments, are being boarded up.

"They may have to be demolished or landbanked for redevelopment purposes," said Gary M. Brooks of the Baltimore Community Development Financing Corp.

When they became Section 8 apartments in the late 1970s, the conversions seemed to work. But as years went on, things got out of hand. The units were ill-suited for families with children; security became a problem, and private management faltered. A few weeks ago, city officials ordered all six privately owned Schoolhouse Apartments closed.

City officials readily acknowledge that they and the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development failed to prevent mismanagement. This is little consolation to marginal neighborhoods that now have these vacant buildings adding to their problems.

The city is seeking new developers, but says it doesn't want to sink any more public funds into the buildings that require expensive repairs. Under those conditions, only one of the schoolhouses is likely to have quick takers -- a Victorian on Bond Street, just blocks from the popular Fells Point waterfront. The fate of the rest is up in the air.

But another of the buildings merits developers' attention. It's a rare and elegant Italianate mansion at Orleans and Aisquith streets, reputedly the city's oldest surviving public school building. It may not make much sense as a multifamily residence, but it could be a splendid address for professional offices.

It's one of Baltimore's architectural gems, just minutes away from downtown and the Johns Hopkins medical campus. It must be saved.

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