Baltimore Mayor Sheila Dixon is expected to announce today that the city is giving $100,000 to the Herring Run Watershed Association for its new environmental center on Belair Road.
The center, which is scheduled to open in the fall, will be one of the greenest buildings in Baltimore - complete with composting toilets, a tankless hot water heater and a roof that recycles storm water.
The city's grant marks the end of Herring Run's two-year drive to raise the $600,000 needed for the building, which they hope will brighten up Belair Road and be an inspiration for those seeking to improve the neighborhood.
Assistant Deputy Mayor Tom Stosur said Dixon couldn't honor all the requests for help from the city. But he said she was glad to fund this one because it fit well into her goal of a cleaner, greener city.
"It's a high priority for this mayor to promote a cleaner environment for the entire region," Stosur said. "This is the final piece that was needed to complete the funding so the building could come to fruition and be a resource for stability not just for Herring Run, but for the entire city."
The watershed center will be in a former bakery at Belair Road and Pelham Avenue. The association will run its offices from there, but the public will also be welcome to come in and get information about how to install energy-efficient roofs and heaters, and learn about native plants.
Herring Run Executive Director Mary Roby said she began talking to Dixon's people shortly after the mayor took office in January. The group had received a $100,000 grant from the state during the 2006 General Assembly, and Roby asked the mayor's office to match it. The rest of the funds for the building have come from local foundations and individuals.
With all the pressing needs in Baltimore, Roby said she never allowed herself to believe the funds were a sure thing. But she had hope because the center fit in with the mayor's stated goals of cleaning up the city, planting trees and strengthening neighborhoods.
"This project is very much in line with the mayor's priority of having a green and clean Baltimore, and lots of the things we do reinforce that mission," Roby said.
Since Roby arrived in 2003, the association has been a forceful advocate for cleaning up the 44-square-mile watershed, which stretches from the entrance of Herring Run Park in Northeast Baltimore City to Baltimore County communities including Towson and Rosedale. The group has recruited thousands of volunteers to plant trees and clean up garbage in the watershed. Its staff of four puts on workshops on how to use rain barrels to control storm water runoff. It has also been working with the city and the county on a watershed agreement to reduce storm water pollution.
"This group has proven themselves to be real advocates, really involved, and they're pioneering in this effort for green buildings," Stosur said.
Roby said the group would eventually have to raise about $100,000 more for office and classroom furniture and equipment. But for now, she's thankful the group has come as far as it has - a year ago, more than a few people were skeptical that a small nonprofit in Belair-Edison would be able to raise more than half a million dollars for a new building.
"It feels amazing. It's just wonderful," she said. "It's kind of an atypical thing for an nonprofit to do, but I'm glad we've done it."