Shut down over safety issues, Johnston Square arts studio works to reopen

The Post Office Garage building, a Johnston Square property that houses artist studios, was shut down Monday due to various safety concerns but work is being done to make the building operational again, the Baltimore housing department said.

Responding to a complaint of a burst water pipe inside the building, the Baltimore Fire Department eventually issued a cease-and-desist order due to standing water, lack of water access to the building and electrical cords running through the standing water, said Blair Skinner*, the fire department’s spokesperson.

The housing department issued a “partial condemnation” of the building due to severe stress cracks in the front wall facing Preston Street, said Kathleen Byrne of the Baltimore City Department of Housing & Community Development. The sprinkler system also did not work, according to Byrne, the department’s deputy assistant commissioner for litigation, permits and code enforcement.

Tenants “were evacuated for safety purposes until the owner can make immediate repairs to the life-safety issues,” Byrne said.

Unlike the Bell Foundry, the arts warehouse in Station North that the city shuttered in late 2016 due to safety violations, the Post Office Garage building did not have tenants living there, Byrne and Skinner said.

“It’s only used for workspace,” Byrne said.

Work is currently being done to address the issues to get the building, located at 439 E. Preston St., operational again, she said. On Thursday morning, members of the fire department were on-site to monitor artists removing their belongings, Skinner said.

The building’s owner, Trazaju LLC, has plumbers working on the water issues and an engineer is addressing the cracks in the wall, Byrne said. A representative from Trazaju LLC could not be reached for comment. A man who identified himself as the building manager at the property Thursday declined to comment or give his name.

Artists of various disciplines, including woodworkers and printmakers, worked to quickly remove their belongings on Monday, she said.

The artists are working with Amy Bonitz — president of the Baltimore Arts Realty Corporation who served on the city’s Safe Art Space task force — to determine a window to remove the rest of the belongings, Bonitz said in an email.

Last April, Mayor Catherine Pugh signed an executive order to allow artists to remain in spaces despite code violations, so long as the building did not “represent an imminent threat to life or safety.” The fire and housing departments deemed the issues at the Johnston Square building severe enough for the order to not apply, Byrne said.

The Baltimore Beat first reported the Post Office building’s shutdown.

On Thursday, the city will place a barricade in front of the building’s facade, out onto the sidewalk and into the first lane of parking to protect passersby, Byrne said.

wesley.case@baltsun.com

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