Panel recommends preserving building

Md. council wants UB to incorporate Odorite site in plans for student center

Group's decision is nonbinding

March 01, 2004|By Edward Gunts | Edward Gunts,SUN STAFF

Unhappy with the University of Baltimore's plan to raze the vacant Odorite building to make way for a $13.9 million student center, an influential state council has voted unanimously to recommend that the university find a way to preserve all or part of it.

The university is not required by law to follow the recommendations of the Maryland Advisory Council on Historic Preservation. But if it ignores them, it could leave itself open to a suit from private citizens charging that it is acting in an arbitrary and capricious manner as a guardian of state resources.

Preservationists who have long fought the university over the issue applauded the decision. University President Robert L. Bogomolny, who testified during a council hearing Friday that the university has been unable to find a prudent and feasible way to incorporate the 1915 Odorite building into its plans for the student center, said he would take time to digest and respond to the council's recommendations.

"We will think about it," he said. "Beyond that, I don't know what the outcome is going to be."

The council was established 18 years ago to help mediate instances when the Maryland Historical Trust, the state's preservation agency, cannot reach agreement with another state entity on how to treat a state-owned building deemed to have historical significance.

It is made up of the heads of four state agencies - Victor L. Hoskins, housing and community development; Robert L. Flanagan, transportation; Audrey E. Scott, planning; and Boyd K. Rutherford, general services - and three private citizens with preservation expertise.

The council met for four hours Friday, then voted 7-0 to recommend preservation.

"In recognition of the historic significance of the Odorite building and the longstanding public opposition to its proposed demolition, the Council asserts that preservation of the building is in the best interest of the citizens of the State of Maryland and that the University should make preservation of the Odorite Building a priority," the council stated.

The council went on to recommend that the university "develop and implement a design that combines new construction with adaptive reuse of the Odorite building" or preservation of its two most visible facades, the walls along Maryland and Mount Royal avenues.

Those recommendations, if followed, would require the university to scrap its plans for a student center that does not incorporate the Odorite building and start over.

The language and unanimity of the recommendations were hailed by preservationists who have argued for years that the Elizabethan-Tudor-style building at Maryland and Mount Royal avenues, built as a showroom for the Monumental Motor Car Co., is worthy of preservation.

"I couldn't be more pleased," said J. Rodney Little, head of the Maryland Historical Trust. "They in essence did what we recommended. ... I think it strengthens the case for preservation of the Odorite building."

"We trust that the university will be a good citizen and abide by the decision of the council," said John Maclay, president of Baltimore Heritage, a preservation advocacy that sued the university last year to block demolition.

Little made a similar point.

"While the University of Baltimore has a right to ignore the recommendations of the council, I believe taking that action at this point would be unwise," Little said. "A well-qualified council with influential members has recommended that [Bogomolny] go back to the drawing board, and he should respect their recommendation."

Students are divided over the need to save the Odorite building, based on testimony during the hearing.

Undergraduate Ken Borst told the council that he collected 130 signatures from students who saw no need to save the Odorite building, while preservation advocates submitted a petition with 100 signatures from students who did.

The students expressed frustration that the University of Baltimore has the only campus in the state higher education system without a student center, forcing some to study in their cars or hallways because they have nowhere else to go.

"While everyone is arguing over the process, the delay is causing the price of the building to go up - and the students will have to pay for it," Borst said.

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