19th-century schoolhouse gets new use as condo

Historic facade to be preserved in tax credit plan

August 02, 2006|By ANICA BUTLER | ANICA BUTLER,SUN REPORTER

In the 1930s, Muriel Carter attended first and second grade in the 1st Avenue School in Glen Burnie, a modest two-story brick structure built in the late 1800s.

The school where Carter, 78, completed her elementary education has been razed and rebuilt, but the school on 1st Avenue still stands.

Today, the building, many times modernized, is home to the Light Center Spiritualist Church and will soon be turned into condominiums. But the historical architecture of the building's faM-gade will be restored, thanks to a $340,000 tax credit awarded to Baldwin Homes of Arnold last week.

Carter said the community has mixed feelings about the condominium project, but she's glad that the historical integrity of the building will be saved.

"I think it's probably the best use," she said. "Somebody could own it and just let it fall down." Built as an elementary school in 1899, it was the first in the area that was more than a one-room schoolhouse, said Mark Schatz, director of the Kuethe Library in Glen Burnie. The original structure is just part of the building that exists today.

Back then, it stood near the old Glen Burnie town hall.

"It's been gone a long time," Schatz said. "But the location, it was the social center of the town at that time."

The former elementary school also served as Glen Burnie High School starting in the 1920s, according to the Baldwin Homes Web site. The school served the entire northern part of the county, and its first graduating class, in 1926, had only four members.

Carter, a lifelong resident of Glen Burnie, said the school has also been a school for the disabled, has housed community college classes and was home to a machine shop during World War II. People trained there to work on airplane assembly lines and to get jobs helping in the war effort, she said.

"It's important that we keep our heritage and restore it," said Michael Baldwin, of Baldwin Homes.

The existing school building will be turned into five condos and an addition will contain three townhouse units, said Catherine Purple Cherry, the project's architect.

The exterior will be completely restored, Cherry said, adding that the building is in very good shape for its age.

The Heritage Preservation Tax Credit Program, administered by the Maryland Historic Trust, gives developers a tax credit of up to 20 percent of the cost to rehabilitate a historic building.

"The program is for historically designated buildings that are generally in some commercial or nonprofit use," said Rodney Little, director of the trust.

According to Little, an applicant proposes the rehabilitation of a property, and must have its "historically appropriate" plans approved to earn the tax credit.

The program has existed since 1997. This year, it's distributing more than $20 million to 50 organizations, most in Baltimore City. In Anne Arundel, the state granted a $20,000 tax credit for the Ridout House on Duke of Gloucester Street and a $60,000 credit for a retail and office space at 128 Main St., the site of an ice cream shop that was damaged by a five-alarm fire in November.

Little said the program makes it more attractive for developers to restore the historical elements of a building, especially if it is in a neighborhood that might be considered a financial risk.

"One of our selection criteria has to do with the nature of the neighborhood, if there's blight there...This partial credit does provide incentive," he said. "Another reason [for the program] is, we've seen plenty of historic buildings being torn down around the state. This gives incentive not to tear down historic buildings and encourages [developers] to do correct rehabilitation of historic buildings. It's incentive for developers who are willing to do it correctly and keep the original character intact as much as possible."

Baldwin admits that it would be easier and cheaper to gut the building's dated elements.

"Basically, it's less expensive to put new products on the building than to restore, say, the windows," he said.

But, he added, with the tax credit, the windows will be true to the history of the building and the school's original brickwork will be replaced. The interior has been upgraded in the past and has air conditioning, Baldwin said.

The project is still in the permit process, and it likely will be a year before any construction or renovation begins, he said.

anica.butler@baltsun.com

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