A Charles Village group has raised $600,000 to convert a former branch of the Enoch Pratt Free Library into a community learning center.
Slate roofing work has begun on the former branch in the 2500 block of St. Paul St., which closed in September 1997 after an acrimonious court battle that pitted community activists against Pratt trustees.
One activist, Judith Hart McLean, said she was delighted with the result: "We didn't have to compromise, and we're serving all [community] components."
Said James C. Welbourne, Pratt's assistant director, "This shows the people can do it.
"Nationally, people should watch this group as a model when the time comes for a library system to release its buildings," said Welbourne, who was on hand yesterday at a ceremony announcing the fund drive's success.
A group of about 35, including a first-grade reading class from Margaret Brent Elementary School, stood in the bookless reading room as a list of contributors was announced at the newly renamed Village Learning Place, which is expected to reopen by summer.
"I see new oak bookcases and refinished floors and woodwork," said Lee Jaslow, a Calvert Street resident and the Learning Place's president. "Those of us who worked on this project from the beginning never doubted it."
His group foresees the building redefined in three sections: a first-floor Village Library made of specialized collections (city history, great books, urban gardening); a Village Learning Place (computer instruction, meeting and classrooms) in the basement; and Enoch Pratt's Garden, a brick-walled garden behind the building.
Jaslow said the Abell Foundation contributed $258,000; the state $216,000; the Baltimore-based Renewal Foundation $55,000; T. Rowe Price Associates Foundation $10,000; Mercantile Safe Deposit & Trust Community Fund $5,000; Resource Conservation Technology $25,000. Other gifts include a $50,000 anonymous donation.
Rebecca Murphy Jones of the Abell Foundation said the starting-from-nothing fund-raising process was "extraordinary serendipity, which was neat to watch."
The St. Paul Street branch opened Nov. 14, 1896, one of the first six branches in the Pratt system. Designed by architect Charles Carson, the building has a sloping slate roof; dark, red brick walls; and a heavily timbered ceiling.
"We all had positive experiences in our youth with a neighborhood library. It's where we learned about a wider world, where we gained a love of reading, rather than a love of knowledge," said Bob Sherman of University Parkway, who has volunteered as the group's development director.
Sherman said the group's biggest obstacle was to gain credibility with the state's elected officials. "It was an enormous job. We asked ourselves, 'How do we start?' But once we got going, it happened," Sherman said.
Bill Tiefenwerth, director of community relations for the Johns Hopkins University, said his department plans to assign five undergraduate volunteers to the center when it opens.
Jaslow said he sees the project giving Charles Village a new focus -- a place for meetings, courses and community activity.
But volunteers need to be signed up for tutoring and other jobs.
"We've got the money for the building and the renovation, but we need money for the books," Jaslow said.
Pub Date: 12/09/98