A vacant school building in Sandtown-Winchester is getting a new purpose.
The former William Pinderhughes Elementary School building, which has been empty for over 10 years and was most recently used as a homeless shelter, is expected to become the new headquarters for the Salvation Army Central Maryland Area Command.
For some residents, the move symbolizes the first major investment in years in an often-overlooked community grappling with crime, poverty and vacancies. But if you ask Maj. Roger Glick, an area commander for Salvation Army Central Maryland Area Command, the choice to relocate to Sandtown-Winchester is nothing short of fulfilling the nonprofit’s purpose.
“That’s our mission. That’s really who we are. We don’t shy away from poverty. We don’t shy away from violence. We don’t shy away from the ills of society. We run to it,” Glick said.
The Salvation Army Central Maryland Area Command — which covers Baltimore, Howard, Carroll, Harford, Cecil and northern Anne Arundel counties and Baltimore City — plans to put more than just its headquarters in the building. The goal is to make some renovations and roll out different programs and services that align with community needs.
Initial plans include a Boys and Girls Club, gymnasiums, a commercial kitchen, a performing and visual arts center, a senior cafe and a social services office. The nonprofit already runs and funds the Boys and Girls Clubs in Franklin Square, Glen Burnie and Middle River.
“What we do is we attempt to create an environment through the programs and services and the love of shining light, to help the community become what they want it to be,” Glick said.
The move to a new headquarters will take time, though. Glick said the group, which is buying the building from the city, is finalizing legal documents, and then the nonprofit will move onto raising money for the project, once they figure out how much it will cost. The goal is for 2024 to be a fundraising year and then to renovate. It’s possible, but “optimistic” that they’ll move in by the end of 2025.
“It’s going to be a massive undertaking, but I’m telling you it’s going to be beautiful. And it’s going to be I think something that the community will be proud of,” Glick said.
The Salvation Army Central Maryland Area Command will move from Light Street in Federal Hill. That building once housed the Maryland West Virginia division, which has since consolidated with the national division in Washington, D.C. The building is going to be sold and the Salvation Army needs to move, but they’ll stay put until the Pinderhughes building is ready, Glick said.
Eric Stephenson, a Sandtown-Winchester resident, originally reached out to the Salvation Army in hopes of forming a partnership at the beginning of neighborhood master planning. He suggested the former school building after learning the group needed to move, and out of frustration with the temporary homeless shelter. Stephenson sees the project as a win because it could mean more jobs and make it more attractive for people to move to the neighborhood.
Sandtown-Winchester’s population decreased by nearly 28% between 2010 and 2020, according to census data.
“We hope they are gonna be the closest thing we have to an anchor institution,” he said.
Glick said the nonprofit is trying to establish partnerships and continue to engage the community about what’s to come and receive feedback and suggestions about other uses of the building. Maria Mathieson, executive director of the Peabody Preparatory program at the Johns Hopkins University, is working with the Salvation Army about possibilities for community arts programs.
“I think what we want to be able to provide is a musical hub where families don’t have to go that far and can use music as a force for good,” Mathieson said.
The nonprofit also has an advisory board, which includes longtime Sandtown resident and publisher of BmoreNews.com Doni Glover. Glover recalled the Nehemiah town house development as the last big investment to come to Sandtown. That project brought new housing stock to West Baltimore in the 1990s and early 2000s. The school building sits next to homes from the development project.
Glover said the neighborhood needs something positive. He previously told Glick that they’re coming to the “belly of the beast” referring to how close the building is to drug activity off Pennsylvania Avenue. Nonetheless, Glover said, there’s still “a lot of love in the neighborhood.”
During a walk recently near the former school building, residents could be heard talking about issues that have held the neighborhood back. Like the national spotlight Sandtown-Winchester received after the 2015 death of Freddie Gray, who died from injuries sustained while in police custody. And how the community’s issues were highlighted, but efforts to solve them deflated.
Marshall Cullens, a Sandtown resident since 1997, said there’s “a lot of people that talk a good game” but are motivated by making money. The Salvation Army could bring jobs and a “spark of hope” for guys on the corner, especially if they explain what they offer, said Cullens. He’d also like to see the nonprofit work with ex-offenders.
Glick said that there will be a mix of full-time and part-time job opportunities and that the nonprofit was approached by organizations about workforce development opportunities.
Lucky Crosby Sr., a lifelong Sandtown resident, isn’t so convinced about the perks of the proposed project. He thinks there needs to be a vocational training school in the neighborhood and after-school educational programs for students.
“We see all these proposals, and the proposals never address the human misery or human plight of the community,” Crosby said.
He also wonders why more investment can’t go into the Lillian Jones Recreation Center, which is near Pauline Fauntleroy Park on North Stricker Street and has been closed since 2021. Showdown for Sandtown, a collective of at least 18 organizations formed to advocate for the reopening of the recreation center, recently decided to eventually become a community development corporation to address other issues in the neighborhood. The Parks and People Foundation is its fiscal partner.
Glick recognized that though the Salvation Army has had a footprint in West Baltimore for over 130 years through work it’s done there, there are also other people and organizations trying to make positive changes in the community and the nonprofit doesn’t want to work against them.
“We’re not the only game in town, because a lot of people are doing a lot of work, and I think it’s all transformational. I think it’s all going to work together, and I think the best days are ahead,” Glick said.