Vi­sion of re­birth flows from old Valve House

Civic Works en­vi­sions ren­o­va­tion of Clifton Park struc­ture

Baltimore Sun - - MARYLAND - Jac­ques Kelly jac­ques.kelly@balt­sun.com

Istepped in­side the longa­ban­doned Clifton Park Valve House and cursed my­self for wait­ing so long to visit one of Bal­ti­more’s fa­mil­iar, yet off-lim­its trea­sures.

The light shot though its bro­ken tile roof and a steady breeze whis­tled though its sub­stan­tial gran­ite walls. The ex­pe­ri­ence was a rev­e­la­tion.

This lit­tle cas­tle on Saint Lo Drive in the mid­dle of Clifton Park has been closed and aban­doned for nearly 50 years. And while it’s not a to­tal ruin, one of its stone walls is be­gin­ning to sep­a­rate from the roof. For morethanfour­decades, preser­va­tion­ists have lamented its de­plorable con­di­tion.

John Ciekot, spe­cial projects direc­tor for Civic Works, the com­mu­nity ser­vice non­profit that trains young peo­ple in build­ing skills, guided me on a tour of the struc­ture, which once safe­guarded ma­chin­ery that con­trolled the wa­ter flow to the old Lake Clifton reser­voir.

“We have a panoply of as­sets here in the park,” said Ciekot, open­ing the lock on the chain-link fence that sur­rounds the mas­sive eight-sided stone pav­il­ion dat­ing to 1887. “Our goal is to cre­ate a new level of liv­abil­ity and to at­tract peo­ple to the park and as new res­i­dents in the com­mu­nity around it.”

One of the com­po­nents of his bold strat­egy is to ac­com­plish a $5 mil­lion restora­tion of the Value House. Ciekot en­vi­sions it as a place where peo­ple will one day gather for a cof­fee and per­haps learn about Bal­ti­more’s wa­ter sup­ply sys­tem.

The Valve House is an agenda item on Ciekot’s to-do list for Clifton Park. Nearly a decade ago, he and his fel­low Civic Works em­ploy­ees un­der­took ren­o­va­tion of Clifton Man­sion, which had fallen on hard times af­ter years of hard use as the ad­join­ing mu­nic­i­pal golf course’s club­house.

The man­sion, once the sum­mer home of phi­lan­thropist Johns Hop­kins, is now a show­place. Its restora­tion — cost­ing about $7.5 mil­lion — is com­plete, save for some in­te­rior paint con­ser­va­tion work.

A visit to the Clifton Man­sion re­quires pass­ing the nearby Valve House, which stands about 100 yards down a hill.

“Peo­ple visit the man­sion and in­evitably ask, ‘What is that build­ing?’ ” Ciekot said. “When we tell them, they then say, ‘What’s go­ing to hap­pen to it?’ ”

Ciekot sees the big pic­ture — and the big prom­ise of a hand­somely ren­o­vated value house.

“It will be an in­stru­ment that re­vi­tal­izes the com­mu­nity,” he said. “We could op­er­ate it as a wel­com­ing cafe, with in­door and out­door ser­vice that also trains stu­dents en­rolled in high school part­ner­ships in business man­age­ment. In the sum­mer, we could use it to pro­mote and sell farm pro­duce that we grow at the south end of John Ciekot, spe­cial projects direc­tor for Civic Works, stands at the Clifton Park Valve House, which was built in 1887 and has fallen into dis­re­pair. “It’s … full of pos­si­bil­ity,” he said. Clifton.”

Ciekot likes to think ex­pan­sively — and not fret the de­tails. For starters, the Value House re­tains its orig­i­nal twin cav­i­ties, the size of small sub­way tun­nels, that once held ma­chin­ery con­trol­ling the wa­ter flow to the reser­voir, which was closed and filled about 50 years ago.

As the old Lake Clifton dis­ap­peared, the city con­structed a 3,200-stu­dent high school on the site. The school build­ing now houses two smaller high schools, Academy for Col­lege and Ca­reer Ex­plo­ration and Reach Part­ner­ship.

“I see the cafe as be­com­ing a so­cial hub for Clifton, which will func­tion again, as it did in the past, as the shared front yard of the fam­i­lies sur­round­ing the park,” he said.

Ciekot works with the neigh­bor­ing Cold­stream Home­stead Mon­te­bello com­mu­nity or­ga­ni­za­tion on their shared vi­sion. His or­ga­ni­za­tion has agreed to take on the Value House pro­ject.

Civic Works has ap­plied for an ini­tial $400,000 grant from the state to get started. If suc­cess­ful, fundrais­ing will be­gin in earnest.

“Its re­birth will be a draw through­out the city,” Ciekot said. “It’s a mag­nif­i­cent struc­ture, full of pos­si­bil­ity. If we get the cafe open, who knows? Maybe a fu­ture pas­try chef we’ve trained will come out of this en­deavor.”

BARBARA HAD­DOCK TAY­LOR/BAL­TI­MORE SUN

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