The Historic Henry Highland Garnet School was originally constructed in 1877 and totals 14,000 square feet. The building consists of three levels with a full basement and classrooms throughout. During the years of operation, the public elementary school was the starting point for countless children in the area. One student who attended in the 30’s made it all the way to the Supreme Court, Thurgood Marshall. Once he was appointed to be a Justice, the school was then named after him to showcase where he got his start. Since the school closed in the 1970’s, the building that was once a large part of the community has been sitting vacant and deteriorating.
What used to be the place that would educate future leaders, teachers, engineers, and Supreme Court Justices, was slowly fading away to a shell of a building. Being a large member of the community, Union Baptist Church recognized that this school had more to offer and could become a hub of new beginnings again. The property was awarded to them from The City of Baltimore and plans to revitalize the public school began.
Thurgood Marshall School is in West Baltimore’s Druid Hill neighborhood, where crime is unfortunately not uncommon. Homicide rates have become some of the highest in the nation, and nothing shows that these rates will be trending down on their own. In a community that has become so familiar with crime and violence, children and their families find their safe haven within the church. Attending church and having deep roots in religion is a large factor in what keeps the community held together and gives them a positive outlook of the future of Druid Hill. Since Union Baptist Church is so prominent, the community had full trust in their ability to renew the Thurgood Marshall School and provide them with another safe haven and a place where real change could start.
When determining what the future of Thurgood Marshall School should look like, the needs of the Druid Hill Neighborhood were the most important to focus on. Reverend Hathaway, Pastor of the Union Baptist Church, devised a plan to transform the space to be a diversity, equity and social justice center. The new community center would provide areas that businesses could rent to work on social justice efforts, while the rest of the space will be utilized for community activities. Overall, the space will be an anchor where community members can come together, similar to the role of the church, and find peace through connections and contributing to programs focused on positive impact.
While transforming the function of the building, it was an important factor to preserve historic elements. The façade of the school is set to remain intact, due to the historic tax credits acquired for the development. Also, wanting to honor the name of the school, the new community center will be called the Thurgood Marshall Upton Community Center. While appreciating the history of the building, it’s function will now fit the modern needs of the community. The resources being put into this property will inject spirit and life into an underserved community that has potential to thrive.
After Union Baptist Church was awarded the school, the next steps were to find a way to financially support their ideas of renovation. The initial challenge was the uncertainty of the costs and efforts necessary to stabilize the building. Then, we had to arrange for the various grants and tax credits to pay for the development. With a historic building that is in the condition that this elementary school was in, we had to save the building from dying first, to then renovate.
We created a uses and income projection plan that laid out the various sources of financial support and then filed requisite applications through federal and state agencies. Reverend Hathaway assembled a team that consisted of an architect, general contractor, and engineers to assess and price out what the full renovation would cost.
We assisted Reverend Hathaway with structuring the capital stack with Historic and State Tax Credits and developed a financial model and devised a budget for a full renovation of the former elementary school. The total cost of the new community center was $8.2 million. Through the grants and tax credits, we were able to secure $4.7 million, and the remaining $3.5 million was a loan from the bank. Entities such as the City of Baltimore, the State of Maryland, and various local companies all contributed to bring the development to life. One of the largest local contributors was the Abell Foundation, who is committed to improving health, economic, and educational outcomes in Baltimore so all people can thrive. This development is something that this neighborhood hasn’t seen before and will be the start of positive change in the community.