The Johns Hopkins Gazette: March 26, 2001
March 26, 2001
VOL. 30, NO. 27


6 Rms, Needs Ktchn, Grt Potential

200 Hopkins volunteers to redo vacant house for East Baltimore couple

By Greg Rienzi
The Gazette

Johns Hopkins Gazette Online Edition

The windows are boarded up, the roof needs replacing, the staircase is basically nonexistent, and the floor joists and kitchen are lost causes. Here is one old house even Norm, Steve and the crew might have to pass up.

The two-story row house at 841 N. Washington St. might not look like much now, but in a few months a small army of Hopkins volunteers will have the 80-year-old structure looking better than new.

The renovation of this building is the concept of John Grinnalds, senior director of Facilities Management at the School of Medicine. The property was part of a real estate deal made with an investor last April that involved the university's acquisition of several homes located just north of the JHMI campus.

John Grinnalds was inspired by the university's 125 Ways of Caring Campaign to choreograph the renovation of this North Washington Street house for an East Baltimore couple.

East Baltimore homeowners Hoover and Carrie Whitaker were one couple approached by the university during the acquisition period. Grinnalds himself had met with Carrie Whitaker on several occasions to discuss the couple's relocation options in the event they decided to sell their property, which was in the area Hopkins wanted for future expansion. Whitaker expressed an interest in staying in the community and asked if there was a house available on Washington Street. Grinnalds told her about the 841 property and said it was theirs for the asking. A stipulation of the real estate deal was that no acquired properties on Washington Street would be demolished but rather preserved as homes.

The Whitakers agreed to relocate there.

Several months later Grinnalds learned of the university's 125 Ways of Caring program, the volunteer and community outreach campaign that asks every Hopkins faculty and staff member to involve themselves in an outreach project at least once throughout the institution's 125th anniversary year. Grinnalds immediately saw a connection with the Whitakers' situation.

"I wanted to renovate a house for them anyway, even if that meant we were going to pay an outside contractor to do it," Grinnalds says. "But when I heard about 125 Ways of Caring, it all kind of matched together. I thought renovating this house for them would be a really nice community service project."

Grinnalds says the response to the undertaking has been "extremely favorable." Nearly 200 people, most from Facilities Management, have already agreed to participate at some level in the home's renovation, and a local union apprenticeship program will be providing additional labor. Grinnalds also has begun to line up local vendors who are willing to donate the needed supplies and building materials.

"We are getting a positive response from everybody we approach. They truly want to help," Grinnalds says. "Basically, we are asking for a lot of small commitments."

Facilities' internal project management team will be directing the renovation work, scheduled to begin in early April. An architectural field investigation on the house was recently completed, and renovation plans are currently being drawn up.

The six-room house at 841 N. Washington has been vacant for several years, and Grinnalds says there is a lot of work to be done. On the to-do list are an initial cleanup, interior demolition and then the installation of new stairs, floorboards, roof rafters, plumbing, electrical systems and heating and air-conditioning units. Once completed, the house will have an entirely new interior, right down to the hardware, fixtures and carpeting.

Grinnalds says the renovation should take under three months to complete and that he expects by mid-July to be touching up the paint and screwing in light bulbs.

For many of the volunteers, renovating a house is unfamiliar territory. While professionals could do the job faster, Grinnalds says the opportunity to have a large group donate their time and effort to such a worthy cause was too good to pass up.

"It should be a lot of fun," Grinnalds says. "Almost anybody can help clean up, paint or do the detail work. I'm sure we'll find a job for everybody."

Ten other properties acquired in the past year by Hopkins have already been renovated by the Historic East Baltimore Community Action Coalition. Grinnalds says he expects this house to come out looking just as nice.

"They look like brand-new homes inside," Grinnalds says. "It's going to look great."

Grinnalds says he is anxious for the project to get started. Not as anxious, however, as Carrie Whitaker. "I talk to her about once a week," Grinnalds says. "She just calls to check the status of her new home."

To learn more about 125th Anniversary volunteer opportunities, go to