October 23, 2019 / Member News

[Press Release] Blacktop Turned Sensory-Driven Educational Space Makes a Large Impact on a Small Budget at the William S. Baer School

Baltimore, MD (October 23, 2019) – Students used to have to ride their tricycles down the hallways of the William S. Baer School. The blacktop outside, full of cracks and warped with a dying Ginkgo tree in the center, was not accessible to the majority of the school’s population. The William S. Baer School is the only public school in Baltimore dedicated to serving children ages 3-21 with severe cognitive and physical disabilities, and the students needed a new space to learn and play. With the guidance of a committed design team, the school transformed a deteriorating, inaccessible blacktop space into a sensory-driven, educational space for all to enjoy.
Last November, Dream | Design | Activate, a team of local designers and creatives, approached the school about renovating the dilapidated blacktop as a service project. They worked closely with the school, beginning with a public meeting involving staff, faculty, and community members. The project involved faculty at each step of the design process to meet the unique needs of the students.
The end result is Baer City: a colorful painted streetscape with a variety of games like Four Square and Hopscotch, all sized for wheelchairs and designed for the special needs of Baer School students. The 10,000 square foot project was funded with a $25,000 grant used to pave the blacktop, hire muralists to enhance the facade of the building that faces the track, and execute the striping of the track. To bring the vision to life, the school and community organized a volunteer paint day guided by the design team.

The Baer City team accepts their award (LR): Alyssa Brown, Assoc. AIA; Zulema Moore; Tracey Beall; Marcella Massa, Int’l Assoc. AIA; Tia Harris; Councilman Leon Pinkett. Photo courtesy Side A Photography.

Baer City demonstrates how with limited funding, architectural design can bring art, creativity and vibrancy to a space. It was for this reason, and the project’s strong engagement process and focus on inclusivity, that Baer City was selected for the 2019 AIA Baltimore and Neighborhood Design Center (NDC) Social Equity Award. The award, now in its second year, recognizes community-driven projects that promote social equity through an inclusive and community-driven design process with an eye toward social justice, environmental sustainability and sense of place. The jury included architects Kathleen Starghill-Sherrill, AIA; and Mark Nook, AIA; and past NDC president Evan Richardson. The jury applauded the passion the design team showed for the project as emerging professionals in the architecture field. What was a disintegrating asphalt is now an accessible public space tailored to the needs of the students the school serves.
AIA Baltimore congratulates the Dream | Design | Activate team: Alyssa Brown, Assoc. AIA; Tracey Beall, Briana Allen, Assoc. AIA; Jocelyn Christian, Tia Harris, and Marcella Massa, Int’l Assoc. AIA.
The award for the project was presented at the 2019 AIA Baltimore Excellence in Design Awards Celebration at the Columbus Center on October 18.
See the full list of 2019 AIA Baltimore and BAF Excellence in Design Award Winners