Old Baltimore factory converted into apartments for teachers

Union Mill in Baltimore is converted to teacher housing.<br> Photo: Paul Burk Photography; Courtesy of Marks, Thomas …

In urban areas, young teachers often struggle to find affordable, quality places to live. A development company addressed this problem when it reconfigured a historic Baltimore mill into apartments geared toward educators. And the end product is a success on multiple levels. Built in 1866, the Italianate-style Union Mill—originally known as Druid Mill—was constructed of stone and included a four-story bell tower. A large addition followed six years later. It was one in a series of mills along Jones Falls in what is now the Hampden-Woodberry area of Baltimore. The mills were the world's biggest producers of cotton duck, a waterproof textile used for sails, ropes, and nets.

Photo: Marks, Thomas Architects

↑ Over time, Union Mill hosted other types of manufacturing until the last occupant moved out in 2007. By then, the structure had suffered decades of neglect. Water was pouring in, the original windows were busted out or blocked in, and the distinctive stone walls were scarred by multiple patchwork repairs. Pigeons, on the other hand, found the dank space agreeable. Despite its battered appearance, the largest stone mill in Maryland was structurally sound.

Photo: Marks, Thomas Architects

↑ In 2010, Seawall Development Co. closed on the property for $2.3M. Seawall, founded by father and son Donald and Thibault Manekin, had just completed Miller's Court, a former can factory in Baltimore that was converted into both reduced-rent teacher housing and offices for nonprofits. They had the same benevolent vision for Union Mill.

Photo: Marks, Thomas Architects

↑ Marks, Thomas Architects, who also teamed with Seawall on Miller's Court, redesigned the property with teachers in mind. An on-site copy center ensures they don't have to go far to prepare for their lessons, and the gym is open around the clock. Common area lounges, gathering areas in the terraced central courtyard, and social events encourage interaction among residents, many who are involved with Teach for America.

Photo: Paul Burk Photography; Courtesy of Marks, Thomas Architect

↑ The original section of the mill and the boiler house were divided into 56 units. The boiler house, topped by a brick smokestack, also houses a 75-seat restaurant. Union Mill includes 25,000 square feet of office space set aside for nonprofits, which also receive discounted rents.

Photo: Paul Burk Photography; Courtesy of Marks, Thomas Architects

↑ The approximately $20M rehabilitation received nearly $3M in historic tax credits from the Maryland Historical Trust. The credit required the buildings to retain as much historic fabric as possible. As a result, the original woodwork, fluted cast iron columns, and 2-foot thick stone walls all were restored. The interior walls were plastered in keeping with the site's use of traditional materials. Furthermore, the project was the first to meet Baltimore's Green Building Standards. The efficient heating and cooling system minimizes energy usage, and the double-pane, energy-efficient windows not only stabilize interior temperatures but are in harmony with the buildings' design.

Photo: Paul Burk Photography; Courtesy of Marks, Thomas Architects

↑ Union Mill officially opened last year. The one- and two-bedroom apartments range in size from about 600 to 900 square feet. After the discount for Baltimore County educators, one bedroom units range from about $800 to $900 a month, and two bedroom apartments rent from about $1,500 to $1,600 a month. There is a long wait list.

Photo: Quick Fox Photography; Courtesy of Marks, Thomas Architects

↑ The Union Mill project is historic rehabilitation at its best. Just five years ago, it was an empty eyesore. But beneath the pigeon excrement was a malleable space primed for adaptive reuse. Now, thanks to a socially conscious developer, it's an energy efficient and visually striking base for people intent on making a positive impact in their community. Few buildings, new or old, can beat all that.

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