Written by Erica Stewart
A broken bone in my foot and thirty-odd sawdust covered steps didn’t diminish my appreciation for the transformation that CASA de Maryland is leading at the McCormick-Goodhart Mansion in Langley Park, Maryland. I joined a group of National Trust for Historic Preservation members and staff recently for a tour of the former grand country home that will become a multicultural center for the extremely diverse and under-served community outside its doorstep. Despite the fancy-footwork-on-crutches that my visit required, I was thrilled to witness this exciting marriage of many important ideals that underpin that buzzword on everyone’s lips: sustainability. The presentation and hard hat tour clearly illustrated how, after years of negotiation, compromise and fundraising, historic preservation, community development, and green building are neatly conjoined in this currently very messy rehabilitation project.
First, a little context. The Georgian Revival McCormick-Goodhart Mansion was built in 1924 amid a vast 565-acre estate. Decades later, the mansion was vacated and a crop of low-income, garden style apartments sprung up around the edges of the home. The surrounding community is one of the most diverse in all of Maryland, with residents hailing from all corners of the globe: French-speaking Africa, India, Central America and Poland, to name a few. Per capita income is just $11,300 and more than 150 languages are spoken at the local elementary school.
This environment makes the McCormick-Goodhart Mansion the perfect home for CASA. The nonprofit was founded in a church basement in1985 to serve the basic, immediate needs of the primarily Latino immigrant community in Maryland: food, shelter, health care. As that community has grown and evolved, so has CASA. That evolution necessitated a larger facility from which to serve its ever-growing client base. Enter Sawyer Realty LLC, owner of the badly weather-damaged mansion. At the cost of $1, ownership was transferred to CASA in 2007 and an ambitious fundraising campaign began. A key component was the complex historic tax credit deal brokered by the National Trust Community Investment Corporation that secured $12 million in state/federal historic and New Markets Tax Credit equity from Enterprise Foundation and Bank of America.
Once the rehab is completed, CASA’s new headquarters will house its expanded programs: financial literacy classes, computer literacy classes, a justice center for pursuing legal and civil rights issues, and cafeteria for service industry training. Several other social service organizations that specialize in serving other minority populations will take up residence as well, ensuring that the region’s many immigrant communities receive the best possible assistance.
Whatever one’s native language, CASA’s rehab communicates two important messages that hopefully may be universally understood. One is that historic preservation truly has space for everyone. There is no limit, no restriction on the purpose or function of a rehabbed historic building. Enough said. It also illustrates that historic preservation is extremely relevant to the most important issue facing our world: global climate change. Under the expert leadership of Ward Bucher, AIA, of the Bucher/Borges Group, the rehab is honoring the building’s historic legacy while lessening its environmental impact. With its green roofs, geothermal heating and cooling technology, operable storm windows and energy and water conservation measures, the project is seeking LEED Gold certification.
Meanwhile, the rehab is also seeking federal historic tax credits which necessitates meeting the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for Rehabilitation. The result is a balancing act that Ward frankly characterized as more like a wrestling match at times between the building’s energy profile and its historic character. He described the lack of insulation in the plastered masonry walls, for example, and how the most obvious path toward energy efficiency would have been to gut the walls and start anew. But this overlooks the embodied energy in the building, for one, which must be an impressive sum when you consider Ward’s estimate that there are 594,722 watt hours consumed in the making of one single brick. And of course demolishing the interior sends you to preservationist jail immediately -- do not pass go, do not collect $200. So instead the interior was saved, and thanks to the painstaking work of skilled craftsman (and laborers from CASA’s job training centers), visitors to the mansion will soon behold its delicate handcrafted plaster scrollwork, intricate woodwork and grand double staircase (which I only briefly noted while white-knuckling my crutches from floor to floor).
Despite the hand-wringing and headaches in observing both the Secretary’s historic preservation requirements and the LEED certification point system, unabashed pride and satisfaction showed in the faces of each person connected to the project. And why not? The project combines a rehabilitated historic building with the best of green technology to reach disadvantaged populations in a close-in, historic suburb. If I had a personal scoring system for construction projects, this one would be a perfect ten. (Though might I suggest a working elevator be made a top priority?)
Erica Stewart is the outreach coordinator for the Community Revitalization department at the National Trust for Historic Preservation.