Baltimore, MD - July 11, 2017 - Finding a space in the “Yiddle League” parking lot adjacent to Northwestern High School at 6900 Park Heights Avenue brought back a flood of memories, last night, before I joined hundreds of fellow community members (and government representatives) from the Fallstaff area and beyond, in the dark, dingy, run-down school auditorium. It was obvious to me why the School Board voted to close both the Northwestern program and the building in December 2016. This was the first of many information-collecting stakeholder meetings which will help determine the desires and concerns regarding the site’s future use.

In the meantime, the 1966 vintage 333,415 square foot building on 16.2 acres, will remain occupied as a swing space for students until Summer 2019. Students from Forest Park High School will occupy the building until the Summer of 2018 and Cross Country will then use the building for swing space, if necessary, until Summer of 2019. Once it is no longer used as a swing space, the site will be assigned to a Baltimore City agency to coordinate re-use of the site; it will probably be offered for sale. Information gathered from meetings, such as the one held last night, will be made available to prospective buyers when the property is offered for sale. In addition, the City will conduct a market assessment of the site.

The site will not be offered for redevelopment until at least 2018. For a reuse to come to fruition, an appropriate organization must have both the interest and the capacity to improve the building and operate the facility and programs. Potential re-use options for Northwestern High School include residential, office, or mixed-use development. Site features include a cafeteria, auditorium, gym, library, pool, track and fields, and approximately 90 parking spaces. It could either be renovated to suit the needs of new uses, or demolished to make way for new construction. According to the Baltimore City Department of Planning, there are steep costs involved in maintaining the site: The annual utility cost is ~$380,000; the annual maintenance and repair costs are ~$740,000; the estimated capital improvement costs in 2011 were ~$32,000,000; and the estimated 10 years life cycle costs in 2011 were ~$49,000,000.

After a brief PowerPoint presentation, the attendees split up to record their ideas and concerns on poster boards hanging on the school hallway wall, in addition to discussing them with fellow community members and planning department officials in various classrooms.

I was fortunate to meet up with Abba Poliakoff, President of the Baltimore Jewish Council, who remarked, “It’s an interesting process. Obviously, we have to get our thoughts together and work together to submit a proposal that would benefit the community and continue to keep this area of Baltimore as an anchor for the community…The Baltimore Jewish Council, CHAI, and other organizations have been looking at the possibility of working together to put together a comprehensive plan that would address the needs of the community. Some of those needs include a high-class residential unit, some open spaces, and senior facility living space. These are things that are important for the neighborhood and this will also accommodate the City’s desire to gain from putting the property back on the tax rolls.”

Mitch Posner, Executive Director of CHAI added, “We are here to listen to the community and all stakeholders and then try to find a great reuse that will help strengthen the community; that’s what we’ve been doing for 35 years.”

“We’re excited to see that there is so much community interest,” mentioned Howard Libit, Executive Director of the Baltimore Jewish Council. “So many people from the community are out tonight to see what opportunities are there, what’s available, to want to share their opinion, and to start thinking about it. We’ve got some time to hear a lot of different ideas for such an important piece of property.”

Doni Greenwald was also in attendance, wearing his hat as the president of Bnai Jacob Shaarei Zion Congregation. “We’re always interested in keeping the shul alive and well and stable, and long-term stability for us means an element of housing that will bring young families here and will keep us relevant for a really long time…One of the biggest challenges for some of the people who come to our shul is that they are renting an apartment and want to buy a house. There aren’t new houses or large enough houses that are attractive to them, so they move to the other side of town. The whole Park Heights corridor can benefit from new housing. One example of new housing that has really made a difference in the community for all the shuls was the first new housing development undertaken by Yitzie [Pretter], who along with his partner, Gil Horwitz, developed new housing—Bancroft Village--and it brought tremendous interest and vitality to young families in the neighborhood.”

Yitzie Pretter, Principal, Mosaic Realty Partners, added, “I’m also interested in seeing what the community wants, but I think that market rate housing will stabilize the neighborhood and be really great for this area.”

Mr. Poliakoff concludes: “What’s important to bear in mind along those lines, is that there is a large investment in this area of town by the community—by the residents, the Associated, institutions--and it is very important to us that this remains an anchor for the community here and, therefore, we are very interested in maintaining not only the stability, but the growth of this community.”

Northwestern High School is located within District 5, home turf of Councilman Isaac “Yitzy” Schleifer, who has been spearheading efforts to start the community engagement process earlier than is the norm, so the community has maximum time to provide their feedback and ideas in this long process.

“I am encouraged by the large turnout and how engaged the community is in this process,” Councilman Schleifer shared with Baltimore Jewish Life.

For information about future meetings, join Councilman Schleifer’s email list by visiting his website: