Research institute for blind proposed $18 million building would be an addition to South Baltimore center


Twenty years after moving its headquarters to South Baltimore, the National Federation of the Blind plans to construct an $18 million addition designed to help improve the lives of visually impaired people around the country.

The National Research and Training Institute for the Blind is the name of the proposed addition, a five-story structure that would be built west of the National Center for the Blind at 1800 Johnson St.

Besides providing educational and research space and a conference center to augment the center's facilities, the institute would be the home of a newly established literary archive on blindness and human rights, including the personal papers and publications of federation founder Jacobus tenBroek and other legal scholars.

The project was a dream of Irvington resident Kenneth Jernigan, the human rights activist, teacher and former federation president who died Oct. 12 after a yearlong battle with lung cancer.

Jernigan headed the organization from 1968 to 1986 and moved its headquarters from Des Moines, Iowa, to Baltimore in 1978. On the eve of a public memorial service to celebrate Jernigan's life -- from 1 p.m. to 3: 30 p.m. tomorrow at the Omni Inner Harbor Hotel, 101 W. Fayette St. -- leaders of the organization say they're eager to carry out his expansion plans.

"This was his vision, and part of his legacy," federation president Marc Maurer said of the proposed expansion. "We're going to build it in his memory. We want to break ground by the end of 1999."

The National Federation of the Blind is considered the largest and most influential organization of blind people in the country, with 50,000 members from 600 state and local chapters. Maurer and Betsy Zaborowski, programs director, say the federation needs the addition to expand its programs and reach people who haven't been reached.

"We're already the recognized leaders, in terms of policies and legislative initiatives," Maurer said. "Now we want to move ahead in the areas of training and research and technology development. We want to take the field of blindness in new directions. That's what this new building is all about."

City officials say the project would make Baltimore even more of a center for programs that serve the blind, in the same way Gallaudet College in Washington has become an educational center for deaf people.

"The expansion will add significantly to Baltimore City both in terms of neighborhood development and business stimulation," Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke said in a letter this fall to Maurer.

The headquarters is housed in a converted factory near the foot of Light Street. Besides administrative offices, it contains classrooms, training and meeting space, storage areas, dining facilities, the International Braille and Technology Center and sleeping quarters for out-of-towners who come to Baltimore for training sessions and seminars.

The federation owns the rest of the block bounded by Johnson, Wells, East Barney and Byrd streets and intends to build its addition on land not occupied by its headquarters.

As designed by J. A. Ammon + Associates of Baltimore, the addition would have 172,000 square feet, nearly doubling the size of the facility.

The first two stories would be designated for parking, and the upper three floors would be devoted to educational, research and meeting space, including the Jacobus tenBroek Memorial Research Library and the Kenneth Jernigan Center for Braille Literacy.

The organization plans to launch a capital campaign to raise funds to build the project and has received a $1 million pledge from an anonymous donor. Maurer said the organization plans to complete construction by 2002.

Anyone interested in attending the memorial service or a public reception at 4: 30 p.m. tomorrow at the federation's Johnson Street headquarters should call 410-659-9314.

Pub Date: 12/04/98

Copyright © 2019, The Baltimore Sun, a Baltimore Sun Media Group publication | Place an Ad