Blurring the lines between university & community in Baltimore
Since opening its doors in 2015, the University of Maryland, Baltimore (UMB) Community Engagement Centre on Poppleton Street has seen 35,000 people through its doors.
Men, women, teens and children alike have come through to engage with the center’s services and weekly programmes. From helping local residents find employment, to giving their children a safe space to learn and play, and organising health and fitness, and other community-based programmes, the centre brings the West Baltimore community to life in various ways.
The objective is to create an ecosystem of support for the local community, providing them with a one-stop-centre from where they can connect with one another and participate in local life. A cornerstone of UMB’s Community Campus, the centre stands as a gift to the local folk of West Baltimore and one of the ways in which the university fulfills its civic obligations.
But UMB has ambitions to expand the centre’s offerings to accommodate growing demands, with plans to offer additional youth programming, workforce development support, health education and social work assistance spaces.
Its current 3,000-square-foot space will no longer cut it. For this reason, the University of Maryland Board of Regents and the Maryland Board of Public Works recently granted approval for the acquisition of a historic building nearby that’s at least seven times its size.
Last week, the institution broke ground on the project, officially marking the start of renovation on the new centre.
The new Baltimore community centre will occupy a 20,000 square foot space, replacing a historic building that was formerly part of the old St. Peter’s Church complex and was most recently used as a drug and alcohol rehabilitation centre.
According to the university, the space has four levels that will be renovated entirely to accommodate the new facility.
It will also be home to the UMB Police Athletic/Activities League and the university’s CURE Scholars Programme, which prepares middle and high-school students for careers in research, STEM and healthcare.
With the new centre, UMB will be able to accommodate requests from the West Baltimore community for multipurpose spaces such as an exercise or dance studio, multipurpose room for meals and events, a wellness suite and a better-equipped community lab.
A space for food market events will be included, as well as a kitchen where locals can hold cooking classes and staff and local vendors can prepare food on-site for events.
Private consultation spaces will provide an avenue for residents to seek legal and health counseling advice, while a family room can be used by social workers and students for group counseling sessions.
“UMB is committed to this city, to the residents of West Baltimore,” UMB President Jay A. Perman said in July when the project was announced.
“I’m so grateful that our neighbours have put their trust in us and are eager to partner with us in something this special.
“This new center builds on a lot of the hard work we’ve undertaken together as a community, and I can’t wait to see what we create from here.”
To fund the project, the institution is relying on public and philanthropic investments; US$4 million comes from the Maryland Department of Housing and Community Development, while a further US$4 million comes from private philanthropy.
Construction on the centre is expected to be completed by the summer of 2020.