The Heathcote mill today, yesterday, tomorrow
First constructed in 1842, the Heathcote mill building is a masonry and wood-frame structure built into a sloped hillside. Heathcote Mill is a historic gristmill consisting of about 4,000 square feet, excluding attic storage. It has a partially below-grade 1st floor, a full 2nd floor and a partial 3rd floor, amounting to approximately 6,000 square feet in total. For most of the past half-century, it has been owned by the School of Living community land trust, though Heathcote Center now owns the building, with a School of Living Trust lease on the land itself.
Over the years, this former industrial structure has been re-purposed and renovated into a residential, visitors, event, and classroom space. Because successive renovations were informal and limited, building code compliance, life safety improvements, and access compliance have been deferred. In 2018, Baltimore County issued a special exception allowing the building to run public programs and house overnight guests. This gave occasion to consider improvements to the building that will advance the mission of Heathcote Education Center and Heathcote Community while carrying out needed building maintenance and compliance.
The project provides code-required accessibility improvements per IEBC and 2010 ADA. Accessibility improvements include a new accessible parking space, a new accessible route from the parking area into the first floor of the building (via a new ramp), improved outdoor lighting, and a new accessible restroom on the First Floor.
The current proposal was prepared by JacobsWyper Architects (JWA), under a team led by Michael Carwile and Jamie Wyper. Michael Carwile is our main contact, a longtime friend of Heathcote who has been involved in many of JacobsWyper’s historic renovation projects, including the Philadelphia Art Alliance, the Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University, and the Gershman Hall Student Center. The renewal of the mill will improve compliance with life safety and building codes such as access routes, fire protection, and means of egress in a way that will make the building suitable for its program needs, while also preserving some of its historic appearance and materials.
The mill in Heathcote’s history
The Heathcote mill was first dedicated as School of Living headquarters in the 1960s. It served as the national headquarters and classroom until School of Living devolved to other centers. Heathcote Center was formed as a separate legal entity in 1977. From the mid 1980’s to the early 1990’s Heathcote was a 3-member women’s community. In 1994, amid a new wave of community land trust and intentional communities, this group was joined by three Baltimore families who were independently forming a cohousing community, along with several other individuals and families. Heathcote re-expanded to a multi-generational group housing center. In 1997, Heathcote Center bought the Farmhouse, a neighboring residential property, with Heathcote Center owning the building and School of Living Land Trust owning the land that is leased to Heathcote. After School of Living left, Heathcote’s mill building served many shifting purposes in an accordion community while hosting continued public events.
As the residential population grew in the 1990s, a restoration plan for the mill building was done by Kahn and Associates, Inc. (a firm specializing in historic restoration). A large capacity septic system was installed along with improved kitchen facilities. Some members lived in outbuildings without running water, relying on the mill for kitchen and bathroom amenities. The mill also provided space for the Homeschooling Open Classroom, provided amenities for interns and workshop participants, and provided a conference room.
In 2008, the new Polaris residence was fully occupied, freeing the mill for dedicated use as the Heathcote Education space; However, with expansion of programs a zoning complaint was filed by neighbors. County officials ordered an end to residences in the cottages, which reduced residential memberships from 15 adults and 6 children to 6 adults. The county also newly required a special exception as a school, but Heathcote Education Center could conduct outdoor workshops under zoning as a farm. This effectively closed the mill until special exceptions were established and building improvements are implemented. Heathcote is currently limited out outdoor workshops and internships.
Heathcote Center and the Heathcote Education Center would like to open the mill to resume in-door public programming as soon as possible. Given funding and scope, the quickest way to reopen will be to phase the work on a floor-by-floor basis. This consists of three phases of legally required upgrades, followed by additional work to install active air-ducts with anti-viral filtering, a fire sprinkler system, new network wiring, switches, and wireless mesh, and additional ramps and railings to ADA specifications along 2nd floor discharge path.
Phase 1 costs: $66,800 (scheduled to begin in 2023)
First floor accessible bathrooms, entrance ramps, egress lighting, parking
Phase 2 costs: $29,600
Second floor fire separations, second floor exit and path upgrades
Phase 3 costs: $31,600
Third floor exterior stairs, walls, fire separations and alarms
Fire sprinkler system: $132,000
Concrete ramp and metal railings for 2nd fl.: $211,200