Rebuilt with a Cause: Historic Mansion Rehab by Nonprofit Group Does the Community, Environment and the Economy Good

Posted on: July 16th, 2010 by National Trust for Historic Preservation

Written by Erica Stewart

Sometimes -  no, most of the time - I'm very proud to call myself a preservationist. Never more so than when historic preservation is utilized to achieve sustainability on economic, environmental and socio-cultural levels. What do I mean by that? By way of illustration, let me introduce, or re-introduce you, to the recently completed historic rehabilitation of the McCormick-Goodhart Mansion in the DC suburb of Langley Park, Maryland (long-time readers will recall our previous dispatches on the project's progress).

As a DC resident, I know Langley Park mostly for its plethora of strip mall ethnic eateries, thrift stores and harrowing lanes of cross-county commuter traffic that are a pedestrian's nightmare. But thanks to a staff outing to the construction site more than a year ago, I ventured off the highway and into the neighborhoods, where I came to appreciate the incredible diversity of its residents—many of them newly arrived immigrants from Africa, Asia and Latin America—and the importance of the Georgian-Revival mansion to Casa de Maryland's mission of helping them get on their feet.

The $13.8 million rehabilitation by nonprofit organization, Casa de Maryland rescues a badly damaged, formerly vacant historic property into a modernized and bustling Multicultural Center that brings jobs and associated economic activity to low-income census tract. Casa de Maryland used historic tax credits, with the help of tax credit broker, National Trust Community Investment Corporation, to help finance the project, ensuring that the historic character of the 1924 mansion would be preserved. This included painstaking restoration of handcrafted plaster ceiling ornamentation, the lobby's parquet floor and its extensive wood paneling. We know that historic rehab creates more jobs than new construction, especially labor-intensive restoration, so we can be sure this project's materials and its workforce were important contributors to the county's economy—as are the employees that now work in the building, and patronize neighborhood restaurants, copy shops, florists and dry cleaning.

The design by architect Ward Bucher of the Bucher/Borges Group also incorporated green building technologies, thus enhancing the inherent environmental sustainability of recycling an existing building on a viable site that is close to public transportation, schools, jobs and housing.  These technologies include green roofs, geothermal heating and cooling systems, operable storm windows and energy and water conservation measures. Paperwork will be submitted for LEED Gold certification.

Apart from a recent lightening storm that fried some fuses, Mr. Bucher reports that the building's geothermal system—which drills deep into the ground to access cool air, or to dump hot air, is functioning well—maybe even too well. Some of the building's smaller-sized rooms have been a bit chilly. Bucher is also very pleased with the green roof design, which features compartments roughly 2 feet by 3 feet that hold oversized plastic egg crates which in turn hold the plants. This allows for easy access to the rubber roof should a leak be detected.

The social and cultural sustainability of the project is evident in the social services provided by the building's main tenant, Casa de Maryland, and the fact that the converted mansion provides them and other like-minded organizations an attractive, inspiring, and well-equipped headquarters that is situated squarely in the midst of the community that needs their assistance. The mansion was once part of a 565-acre estate; now it is surrounded by garden-style, low-income apartment buildings.

But don't take my word for it. The photos below speak volumes about the triumph achieved by the Casa de Maryland and its project team. Bravo!

Erica Stewart is the outreach coordinator for the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s community revitalization department.

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National Trust for Historic Preservation

National Trust for Historic Preservation

The National Trust for Historic Preservation, a privately funded non-profit organization, works to save America's historic places.

Green, Revitalization