Old Goucher building is home to Baltimore Lab School

If the Baltimore Lab School’s stout granite walls remind its 140 students of a magical medieval castle, that’s just the image the school’s founders intended. Imagination rules at this Hogworthian place. A recent assignment had students designing a fanciful miniature-golf course for this weekend’s Artscape.

Located a few blocks north of Artscape at 2220 St. Paul St., the school fills four floors of the former main academic building of Goucher College, built in 1887. The school also rents the auditorium and gym at its neighboring landmark, Lovely Lane Methodist Church.

The school serves students in grades one through 12. Steve Buettner, the head of the school, said it draws students not just from Baltimore City and Baltimore County, but from as far away as Prince George’s and Frederick counties. About 40 percent are charged full tuition of $38,000 a year. The rest are public school students assigned to the school because it specializes in teaching children with language-based disabilities, which often include dyslexia.

“In June, when I hand a diploma to graduating student, it does not necessarily say ‘Lab School.’ If you are a Prince George’s County student, and the district sent you here, the diploma is from that county,” he said. “We are a hybrid school. We are not exactly independent and we are not exactly public.

“We are committed to a philosophy of harnessing the beauty and resources of the city with our students,” he said. These partnerships include the Baltimore Design School, the Margaret Brent Elementary School and a dance studio atop the R House restaurant complex in Remington.

One of the school’s strongest relationships, he said, is with Center Stage, where Lab School students work in a Young Playwrights Series and Center Stage actors mentor Lab School students.

The school offers students an innovative, “arts-infused curriculum,” Buettner said, which takes place in a setting that harks back to an older, more staid academic tradition. Small groups cluster in the grand academic classrooms rooms where Goucher students once learned their Latin and Shakespeare. There are wide staircases, a dark-paneled library and windows inset with circles of leaded glass. Some rooms have fireplaces.

The building they study in carries a lot of history within its walls. President Woodrow Wilson’s daughter, Jessie, was a 1919 Goucher graduate. First lady Eleanor Roosevelt visited the school in 1936 and had tea in the garden of David Robertson, the school’s president, who lived at 2229 N. Charles St. And one of Baltimore’s World War II secrets unfolded on Goucher Hall’s top floor. There, in seclusion, a group of students worked on breaking codes in enemy dispatches.

After the college moved to Towson in 1953, the Red Cross acquired the building. It was later occupied by the Hearing and Speech Agency's Gateway School. The Lab School moved here in 2004 and bought the place for $1.5 million in 2009.

“Our parents work to get their children here,” said Buettner. “Placement here can be lengthy and difficult. Our students from the city and the counties represent a very diverse population, and that diversity is both economic and social.”

Pointing to a picture of Sally L. Smith, who founded the original Lab School in Washington in 1967, Buettner said, “Our founder believed in the power of the city.” He also points to the school’s large windows, which are due for historically accurate replacements next year. “The students look outside and see the world of Victorian architecture in the Old Goucher neighborhood.”

jacques.kelly@baltsun.com

jacques.kelly@baltsun.com

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