New lease on life for former Sacred Heart of Mary School
Wednesday, 24 October 2012 14:31

Americorps to use building for training

by Nicole Rodman

    Closed by the Archdiocese of Baltimore in June 2010, Sacred Heart of Mary School has sat largely vacant for the past two years.
    Now, the Youngstown Avenue building is getting  new life as the federal service program known as Americorps prepares to lease the building for the next five years.
    Decended from the Depression-era Civilian Conservation Corps, Americorps is a federal program designed to “strengthen communities and develop leaders through ... community service,” according to the program’s fact sheet.
    The program, a residential service program for young adults ages 18 to 24, enables members to travel the country assisting populations in need.
    Americorps undertakes such diverse projects as disaster relief, tree planting, community cleanup and working with children.
    In the state of Maryland alone, Americorps members have put in 499,000 hours of service since 2000, working with groups such as Girl Scouts of Central Maryland.
    At a meeting of the Graceland Park Improvement Association last Wednesday evening, Americorps representative Gina Gross was on hand to explain the terms of Americorp’s lease at Sacred Heart of Mary.
  

As Gross explained last week, the lease will be for an initial term of five years, after which time Americorps, the Archdiocese and Sacred Heart of Mary Church can decide if they would like to renew.
    The former school building will be renovated for use as a training facility for all Americorps members from Maine to Maryland.
    Renovations, estimated at $2 million, will  begin around Jan. 2 and continue through at least March, according to Gross.
    As Gross and other officials assured, funding for the renovation project has already been allocated and approved.
    Renovations will be extensive and include replacement of the electrical, plumbing, air conditioning and heating systems, as well as upgrades to the kitchens and bathrooms.
    In addition, the former school’s classrooms will be repurposed as dormitory rooms, and elevators will be added to the building.
    If all goes according to plan, the new Americorps training facility at Sacred Heart of Mary will be open by next April, Gross said at the meeting.
    Currently, the mid-Atlantic Americorps training facility is located in Perry Point, Md., where it has been for the past 17 years.
    During the year, members will spend 6 to 10 weeks at a time living at the Americorps training facility at Sacred Heart before being dispatched to projects across the United States.
    Gross estimated that there will be approximately 120 members staying at the facility during training exercises.
    During their time on Youngstown Avenue, Americorps members will work on projects in the local community, as well as serving on projects across the state.
    According to Gross, the former Sacred Heart of Mary school building came to their attention thanks to an Archdiocese of Baltimore website advertising church properties for lease and sale across the area.
    After an initial visit in June and a visit from an Americorps contractor in July, program representatives were interested in the facility.
    A final decision to move ahead with the renovations and lease was made late last month.
    For proponents of the proposed training facility, Wednesday’s meeting was their first attempt to introduce the idea to the community.
    As Justin Hayes, representative for U.S. Sen. Barbara Mikuski, noted during the meeting last week, “This is kind of our first impression tonight.”
    As Hayes explained, Mikulski’s office worked closely with Americorps and Sacred Heart of Mary to ensure a mutually-beneficial deal for all parties.   
    For their part, while some church and community members seemed to dislike the idea, most of those present seemed to accept the proposal.   
    As per the terms of the lease, Sacred Heart of Mary Church will be allowed to use the school building’s hall for events up to 12 days a year.
    Meanwhile, renovations to the church basement will allow events to be held in the church instead of the school building.
    Additionally, the church plans to remodel the former convent for use as church offices.
    During the meeting, one concerned resident asked about parking in the area.
    According to Gross, while the Americorps training facility will have  about 90 government vehicles, only a few permanent training facility staffers will be allowed to park on the lot at Sacred Heart of Mary.
    “We will not park on the street or take up the neighborhood,” Gross assured the worried resident.
    Americorps is currently looking for a satellite parking lot nearby to store their vans and other vehicles.
    So far, Gross noted, they have looked at the parking lot next the former Heritage Food Market on Center Place, but the fact that former shopping center owner JMJ Properties retains ownership of the lot has complicated matters.
    A swath of land in O’Donnell Heights, once allocated for a now-cancelled construction project, is also being considered.
    Gross also assured Sacred Heart of Mary parishoners that churchgoers will still be able to park in the lot after Americorps moves in.
    The Americorps lease will be reconsidered in five years, after which time all parties can reconsider the arrangement.
    For more information about Americorps, call 202-606-5000 or visit www.Americorps.gov/nccc.