February 4, 2016
On Tuesday, the Living Classrooms Foundation announced that a youth recreation center in Pleasant View Gardens will receive a significant renovation, funded by a $5 million donation from Under Armour CEO Kevin Plank.
The facility, located at 1100 E. Fayette Street and formerly known as the Carmelo Anthony Center, will undergo a 10,000-square-foot expansion that includes a covered turf field, state-of-the-art STEM classroom, workforce and entrepreneurship center, dance and yoga studios, a recording studio, and a neighborhood kitchen. Officials estimate that the construction will be completed by early summer.
“I really have no words for it,” says Travis Street, director of the youth center. “I grew up in this neighborhood, I grew up in poverty. When I was their age, I didn’t have these types of opportunities. I feel privileged to even be a part of it.”
Currently, organizers from the Living Classrooms are in the “needs assessment” phase of the project, in which they’re knocking on doors of the 201 units in Pleasant View Gardens to ask what they’d want out of the new community center.
“At the top of a lot of people’s priority list are programs for entrepreneurship and workforce development,” Street says. “Whether it’s teaching our students about resume writing, or how to dress for success on an interview, these are important keys for the community.”
The youth center in its after-school program alone serves 130 students from five feeder schools in Southeast Baltimore. The program provides healthy meals, homework help, and art outlets. Living Classrooms hopes that Plank’s $5 million donation, plus $1.275 million for general programing, will further expand its reach.
“We’ve put together a pretty exciting canvas for this center,” says Living Classrooms CEO and president James Piper Bond. “We’ll have an incredible music studio where we’ll be working with Thomas Dolby. Our outdoor basketball court, which is kind of crummy, will be a turf with a pavilion so it can be used year-round. Our computer labs will allow our kids to learn code. We’ll be building a kitchen not only to provide healthy meals, but so our kids can start a local catering company. Our new yoga and dance studios will provide fitness. This center will be the heartbeat of the East Baltimore Target Investment Zone.”
That zone to which Bond refers is home to more than 20 city schools and other Living Classrooms centers, which will all greatly benefit from the renovated youth center as a model. Another aspect of the yet-to-be-named center will be providing multi-generational guidance.
“How cool would it be, just hypothetically speaking, if we had a GED program for the parents during the day, and then after-school programs for the kids?” Street says. “Every portion of the day, we want this building to be lively.”
Living Classrooms aims to begin construction by the end of February and is already planning summer programming.
“I started out as a community organizer in Perkins Homes when I was 14,” Street said. “This is my passion, to help disrupt the cycle of poverty. These kids are our future doctors, lawyers, reporters, and so on. This center will be a place for them to take ownership of their community and of themselves.”