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‘Decided to fix it ourselves’: How Carver students, alumni, faculty plan to rehab a vacant Baltimore rowhouse

The house sat vacant on Presstman Street across from Carver Vocational-Technical High School for as long as Sterling Hardy could remember.

The 2012 graduate often wondered how a rowhouse in the center of a block dotted with vacant properties had come to rot away.

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Meanwhile, inside the classrooms of Carver, students were developing skills in carpentry, electrical work and masonry daily. It occurred to Hardy that those skills could be used to improve the surrounding neighborhood, while also giving students more hands-on experience working at a real job site.

A pilot program at Carver Vocational-Technical High School is helping teach students the skills they need to help rehabilitate vacant properties in the neighborhood.

“Why not us?” he wondered. “Why can’t we do it?”

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The 29-year-old Carver alum has since teamed up with his former baseball coach Michael Rosenband to found the nonprofit organization Requity, which aims to remove barriers between vocational education and the marketplace. The nonprofit acquired 2212 Presstman St. in September from Dominion Rental Holdings LLC for $4,000 and has since launched a pilot program at Carver that would give students hands-on experience to prepare them for the workforce while combating economic blight in the surrounding neighborhood.

Requity is working with Baltimore City Public Schools’ career and technical education department as well as Carver faculty to oversee the rowhouse’s rehab and to incorporate energy-efficient building construction into the existing vocational curriculum. Students earn $12.50 an hour with some opportunities to earn more, while advisers are paid $50 an hour, though some volunteer their time, Rosenband said.

“This pilot is to figure out how many different ways we can engage students in this process, either through observing, engaging or doing,” he said, adding that students also can take part in the marketing and accounting side of the rehabilitation process.

Seven students participated during the 2021-22 school year, and the head count has since grown to 25 students working in carpentry, masonry, electrical work, construction design, maintenance and interactive media production.

Isaiah Johnson, a junior at Carver Vocational-Technical High School, cuts wood in a vacant home across the street from the school.

“We’re treating it like its own business that has all of the functions of a business where students can gain experience,” Rosenband said.

The duo’s can-do optimism likely dates back to Hardy’s senior year in 2012 when he was still playing for the Carver Bears baseball team after school and Rosenband was “Coach Mike” to him.

The team needed reliable transportation to practice on a real baseball field. It had been practicing on a softball field — all that Carver had available at the time — even though the distance from home plate to first base was different. Rosenband worked with the students to search for and negotiate the purchase of a van that could bring the whole team to practice at an available baseball field 2 miles away.

The experience left Hardy with the impression that most hurdles likely could be solved with creative solutions. After graduation, he sought out apprenticeships to become an electrician but was told repeatedly that companies wanted him to gain real-world experience before they took him on. Although Hardy eventually found employment in another field, he wondered whether the lesson he’d learned at baseball practice could help other Carver graduates find success.

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“I knew what the problem was with students graduating and not getting jobs after,” Hardy said. “I took what Coach Mike taught me and said, ‘Let me fix it. Let’s fix it together.’”

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These days 2212 Presstman St. has a new roof but is little more than a brick box devoid of floors, walls, windows or plumbing. The original wooden front door and stained glass transom exhibiting the house number sit in the basement wrapped in plastic.

With construction scheduled to begin in January, students already have helped gather dimensions and developed initial renderings for the home design. They’ve participated in the demolition and built temporary door systems, steps and a mock-up of a high-performance wall, which have multiple layers to handle such things as thermal comfort, air control and moisture resistance.

Students in the Carver carpentry lab are now designing and building a mock-up that will provide practice scenarios for installing high-performance, energy efficient windows. Their work is being supervised by Carver teachers and members of the Requity team, which includes builders and architects. The nonprofit is working with contractors who are willing to work at a pace at which students can learn, Rosenband said.

Next students will take on masonry work in the Carver House under the tutelage of a local concrete company and Carver’s longtime masonry teacher.

Kellen Ford, a student at Carver Vocational-Technical High School, looks at the beams in a vacant rowhouse that students are helping rehabilitate at 2212 Presstman St.

Requity also is partnering with businesses such as ADT, which donated $100,000 and a security system toward the project in November. The company sent regional managers to the project site to meet with students who they will mentor during the home’s rehabbing.

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Hardy said he’s looking forward to the day when the students can walk past the property and marvel over the steps they installed or the doorbell they hooked up. And maybe they’ll take away the same lesson he learned back on the baseball field in 2012.

“We saw the problem,” he said. “Instead of making excuses for it, we decided to fix it ourselves.”

Michael Rosenband, left, with Sterling Hardy, a 2012 graduate of Carver Vocational-Technical High School who identified the idea to have students use their trade skills to work on vacant homes near his former high school.

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