Six years after Baltimore's Education Department vacated its 25th street headquarters, the two-building complex has become the biggest city-owned eyesore in South Charles Village -- with trash, broken windows and peeling paint.
While the city still owns the property, responsibility for its maintenance is now in the hands of the Baltimore Housing Partnership -- the nonprofit developer that has the rights to the buildings. Baltimore Housing took over the buildings in May 1992, and plans to convert one of them to housing for the elderly. Construction is scheduled to begin in the spring.
Sparked by a reporter's inquiries about the buildings, Baltimore Housing began a small-scale cleanup last week -- a maintenance worker swept trash from the parking lot and boarded an entrance where a homeless man had been sleeping.
Meanwhile, Thomas J. Shafer, the acting president of the South Charles Village Partnership Inc., continues to be frustrated by the long-vacant building in the first block of E. 25th St.
Mr. Shafer described the vacant complex as "one of the most talked about and critical buildings" in the area.
"It is a thorn in the side of residents and businessmen," he said.
When the Department of Education vacated the buildings in 1987, school officials boarded the buildings, shut off the water supply and turned the property over to the city housing department, according to a school system spokesman.
The housing department and the Baltimore Development Corp. tried unsuccessfully to find a developer for several years before the Baltimore Housing Partnership was selected.
City Councilman Anthony J. Ambridge, D-2nd, said he has been concerned about the building's deterioration since it became vacant.
Shortly after the Education Department left the complex, he said, one of two art deco bronze lamps was stolen from outside one of the buildings.
"I called the Education Department and told them to take the other one down before it was stolen, but they didn't," he said. The second lamp was stolen shortly afterward, he added.
He also said he was disturbed that a previous plan for the city to sell the buildings to two community businesses fell through several years ago.
"Vacant buildings are like a cancer in the community. Unless you maintain them or get them renovated that cancer will grow," Mr. Ambridge said.
Pat Massey, executive director of the Baltimore Housing Partnership, dispatched a maintenance worker to the complex late last week after a reporter's inquiry about the buildings.
Before the cleanup, weeds -- some as high as 6 feet -- grew on the property, and broken office chairs and wine bottles littered the grounds.
The archway entrance to one of the buildings reeked of urine and was piled with food containers, wrappers and a filthy bedspread. The wrought iron fence across the parking lot was broken, and two old sofas had been dumped behind one of the buildings.
Ms. Massey said a clause in her agreement with the city requires her corporation to be "responsible for maintenance of the property. We take that to mean the grounds, not the broken windows in the building. There are certain things we can do and certain things we can't do. I think of late it seems the problem has gotten intense."
David Elam, development director at the housing department, said Baltimore Housing Partnership is responsible for maintaining the buildings and the grounds.
He said the city previously did its best to keep the buildings from deteriorating while searching for a developer.
"I don't get a sense it has suffered any more than other vacant buildings," he said.
Ms. Massey said her corporation plans to convert one of the buildings -- an art deco style building -- into 44 apartments for the elderly. Plans for the second building -- a white structure with an archway entrance -- are still incomplete.
It may be developed as a center for nonprofit corporations or for rental apartments along with Baltimore Housing Partnership's headquarters, she said.
Jane Shipley, who lives a block from the old school headquarters, said she recently called the city to complain about the poor conditions. After calling about six different city offices, she said, she was finally referred to Ms. Massey at the Baltimore Housing Partnership.
Ms. Shipley said she remembers the days when the buildings were still occupied -- before school headquarters moved to North Avenue.
"I'm sure the city is grateful that these good people are taking over this white elephant," said Ms. Shipley, adding, "Someone used to plant flowers in the tree wells."
City Council President Mary Pat Clarke also said she noticed the mess when she rode by the buildings recently.
Ms. Clarke said she wrote a note to herself to "get this mess cleaned up."
"I called Pat Massey, who said they hadn't realized it was [Baltimore Housing Partnership's] responsibility," she said. "They just did not read the fine print [to their agreement with the city]."