|From holy to scary to banal: Holy Angels Keough school (Photo: Philipsen)|
Among the affected schools, Seton Keough High School in Southwest Baltimore is likely to attract the most attention. It was formed in 1988 after the merger of Seton High School and Archbishop Keough High School, two all-girls schools that once boasted enrollments of more than 1,000 students each. Seton Keough now serves 186 girls, which limits the opportunity for the kinds of educational and extracurricular opportunities that would be available at a larger school. (SUN)
|The setting from the north with the school complex on the|
left bottom quadrant of the I-95 interchange (Google Earth)
- Baltimore is famously a landlocked city, i.e. it has no space to grow, in fact, the City is even prohibited by Maryland law to annex any land from the surrounding County. In light of this predicament, one has to wonder whether space consuming low labor distribution is really the right ticket for a strategically located 43 acres site in post industrial Baltimore.
- Baltimore has committed to sustaianbility, livability and equity including all aspects of combatting climate change and environmental degradation. This begs the question if a largely green and wooded site which is traversed by a stream doesn't deserve more consideration than what may fetch the highest price for the land in the moment
- Baltimore is known for its historic architecture. The about 60 year old school is a formidable example of mid-century modern architecture with some considerable qualities that only now start begin to be appreciated by the general public.
- Baltimore has committed to improving the quality of life in its disinvested communities. The small residential pocket communities of Violetville, Wilhelm Park (of which the site is a part) and Morrell Park, the latter located on the other side of Interstate 95 surround the Keough site all could use a shot in the arm; they especially need to be freed from the isolation imposed by the Interstate, Caton Avenue, the large St Agnes Hospital complex and the industrial uses that keep expanding in the area, including warehouses on Desoto Drive to the east. Those probably represent a precedent for the imagined new use of Seton Keough High.
|Zoning Map, the pin shows the EC-1 property (Baltimore City)|
|School entrance (Photo: Philipsen)|
1. The Plan: This rezoning will support the Comprehensive Master Plan’s EARN Goal 1,
Objective 1: Retain and Attract Businesses in all Growth Sectors.
2. The needs of Baltimore City: This rezoning will provide an opportunity for the
development of new light industrial uses that will replace inventory lost elsewhere in the City in places where residential development has displaced older industrially-
zoned land that has outmoded buildings, or properties that are either too small or that have an unusual shape.
3. The needs of the particular neighborhood: There is no current demand for schools or
additional educational programs in this area. The applicants have met with the
Violetville Community Association, and are keeping them informed of progress.
|Leafy with a stream, in parts forested: The 43 acres Keough site |
Such re-zoning must be justified either as a "mistake in the existing zoning classification" or "as substantial change in the neighborhood." The staff report states "The most recent developments in the area are on the campus of St. Agnes Hospital, and the mixed-use development around the Babe Ruth Field at Cardinal Gibbons. The surrounding neighborhood has been stable, with little other development in recent years". This would suggest no significant neighborhood change has taken place. The report still makes "significant change" argument based on the closure of the school itself:
Staff recommends that the Planning Commission find that there has been a significant change in the character that would support the requested rezoning. The closure of the Seton Keough High School occurred just at the end of the Comprehensive Rezoning process of the City, which was voted through Council in December of 2016.
The zoning change for educational to industrial still needs to be approved by the City Council. A public hearing of the Economic and Community Development Committee hearing is scheduled for April 13. The change to industrial use is likely going to be affirmed. In the big scheme of things, it won't make any waves. But it is exactly in the grand scheme of things, that this is not only a somewhat unusual quirk in the ever ongoing transformation of the once mighty industrial city of Baltimore, but decidedly a step in the wrong direction if sustainability, stabilization of poorer neighborhoods, equity and quality of life are the metrics.
|Not a bad composition: Mid century modern architecture (Photo: Philipsen)|
The quirk in which an industrial use replaces education, reverses the more common pattern, which is the other way round.
It would be nice to see this once holy mid-century modern example of architecture in its leafy setting rise to become an opportunity rather than seeing it eradicated and replaced with the dullest of all architectures: The distribution warehouse with its low wage jobs, its huge impervious surfaces and its additional truck traffic.