From the Editor: Recently we have made major improvements to what was formerly known as the east mall, the west mall, black cabinet hall, and the dining room. These improvements were made by the owner of the city block complex owned by the Jacobus tenBroek Memorial Fund and which houses the National Federation of the Blind Jernigan Institute. The Grand Opening of this splendid edition was held on Thursday evening, December 5, 2019. It was attended by the National Federation of the Blind Board of Directors and the Jacobus tenBroek Memorial Fund Board of Directors. Here is a description of our newly renovated space and the way it is now being used:
In 1981 sleeping rooms were first built into the National Center for the Blind (now the NFB Jernigan Institute) complex. Those rooms allowed for seminars and training events to be held at the building in a cost-effective manner. Over the years, the scope of our training programs has expanded, expectations for space have changed, and increasingly more attention has been paid to making our physical space match our brand values. As a result, the National Federation of the Blind collaborated with the Jacobus tenBroek Memorial Fund to envision the future of the National Federation of the Blind Jernigan Institute property. Phase one of the tenBroek Fund’s work was to perform a full examination of the use of the space at the property and then streamline the use and reduce unwanted clutter. The second phase was to develop a new visitor space intended to enhance the event experience of the dining room at the northwest corner of the building and provide sleeping and casual spaces that bring a sense of home within the property. This remodeling project—costing more than $4 million—is the most extensive project undertaken since the new construction on the southwest corner of the property (ground broke for that project in October 2001). As a result of the continued leadership of the Jacobus tenBroek Memorial Fund Board of Directors and their commitment to use every dollar wisely, this project has been conducted without any debt financing, as was the work in 2001. With strong fiscal management and support from partner organizations like the National Federation of the Blind and the American Action Fund for Blind Children and Adults (two of the primary tenants of the building), investments in the property in South Baltimore continue to ensure that this one-of-a-kind property serves as a base for advancing the full participation of the blind in society on terms of equality. This remodeled space, like other parts of the building, has been built to last to serve our needs into the future, to be the pride of blind people who share ownership in the property, and to welcome our sighted visitors who experience it.
You can think of the Barney Street wing of the fourth floor as having four sections:
The wing is named after Barney Street, which borders the property on the north side. From west (Byrd Street) to east (Johnson Street) the entire wing of the original building (circa early 1900s) is 21,000 square feet. Farthest to the west is an outdoor deck that was added in the early 2000s when the new building was built. (The wing is 23,600 square feet with the deck.) To the east of the deck is the dining room, which measures forty-nine by fifty-seven feet. Immediately south of the dining room is the kitchen. Immediately to the east of the dining room is the living room and foyer space. At the north end of this space overlooking Barney Street is the Diane and Ray McGeorge Living Room. South of the living room but contiguous to it is the foyer. The casual spaces are accessed through a set of glass doors in the east side of the foyer. Wrapping around the north and far east sides of the casual spaces are the twenty-one bedrooms. These rooms overlook either Barney Street (to the north) or Johnson Street (to the east).
Upgrades to the dining room are intended to improve the functionality of the space and to create a more open atmosphere. Most notably the doors have been removed and two entrances now lead into the dining room through its east wall. The entrance to the south—accessible from the foyer—is the entrance that previous visitors will be familiar with using. Another entrance at the north end of the east wall leads from the living room into the dining room. The serving line that has been at the south side of the dining room has been moved north about four feet and refaced. The counter now extends all the way to the east wall of the room. A wall that used to be the west end of the serving line has been removed along with the refrigerator that was there. This reduces the noise in the room and makes the serving area longer. Behind the serving counter, large cabinets have been installed. Along the west wall of the dining room running from the south to the middle of the room, where double doors lead to the outdoor deck, a new drink station has been installed. Between the two entrances on the east wall, there are two new bus stations for dishes and garbage. There is a recycling container between the two bus stations. The new additions to the room are faced with a glossy white finish to add contrast to the space and to connect it with the adjacent spaces in the wing. A new HVAC system and ceiling round out the changes to the dining room. The piano, which used to be in the northwest corner, has been moved to the living room, opening up some space for functions in the dining room.
The foyer is the first space that most visitors will encounter when coming into this wing of the building. The double doors that lead to the foyer are accessible from the north end of the Jernigan Institute building. These doors are at the end of a hallway that runs from the approximate center of Members Hall north to the Barney Street wing. Stepping through the doors into the foyer, you are looking north. You are greeted with a transition from the carpet of the meeting and office space to a luxury vinyl tile that runs through the remodeled spaces. Immediately to your right is a utility closet. The foyer is open and bright and has thirteen-foot ceilings. The space features white painted walls, light oak-colored floors, and natural light that comes from three brand new windows in the living room at the far north end. No walls separate the foyer from the living room. The space does include three of the building’s original columns that have been painted to match each space. The columns run in a line from south to north and are eighteen feet east of the west wall of the space. Visually your attention is drawn to a forty-eight-inch diameter fireplace that sits on a seven-foot square base that is approximately twenty-five feet north and a few feet east of the doors to enter the foyer.
Stepping a few feet into the space and taking a right turn around the corner of the utility closet, you now have a long wall to your right (south). There is a steel beam running about twelve feet to the north along the ceiling. This beam was used in the building when it was a light manufacturing facility. A piece of the beam used to stick out into the courtyard, but that external piece was removed in 2002 to make room for the new building. This piece of the beam had been hidden in the ceiling, and we chose to leave it exposed (although with new paint) as a symbol of the history of the building. If it looks like it does not serve any purpose in this space, well, it doesn’t. It is just a symbol of where the building has been.
In front of you (to the east about fifteen feet) are two glass doors that will take you east into the casual space. The keycard reader is on the wall to the right of the doors about four feet back from the door. If you went about half of the way east to the glass doors and turned left (to the north), you would find two single restrooms immediately in front of you. These are the closest restrooms to the dining room. Now, let’s go back to when you turned the corner of the utility closet and had the wall on your right side. Turn to face the wall on your right (south).
This wall includes a large piece of art measuring eight feet by nine feet. Touch it; that is why it is there. This art celebrates the patterns of thought that have been cultivated within the organized blind movement. The art also pays tribute to the Federation’s longest-serving President, Dr. Marc Maurer, by incorporating lines of his 1991 banquet address, Reflecting the Flame. The art also honors the stability of the National Federation of the Blind Jernigan Institute property while acknowledging that the goal is to influence the surrounding community, state, nation, and world by sharing our pattern of thought. Marc Maurer’s leadership in expanding our property and the reach of our organization are symbolized in this art that includes readable Braille. The appearance of the piece gives the impression of logs in a fire. The way we sustain our organization is by constantly building leaders, and we hope this art and the space around it inspires the development of a new core of long-time leaders of our movement.
Here is how the artist commissioned to create this piece, Kenn Kotara, described The Kindling Point Sustained:
The large piece is made up of five separate panels that hang together as one. Each of the wooden-framed panels are covered with thin sheets of clear-coated copper. The horizontal panel at the bottom suggests a log while the four irregularly-shaped vertical pieces invoke the impression of flames. A map of Baltimore is the background of the entire piece. Each street on the map is made up of a line of Braille from Marc Maurer’s speech, Reflecting the Flame. Verdigris surfaces may interfere with the readability in certain areas due to build-up of patina, a tactile experience that will change over time as more fingertips read the Braille. The location of the NFB offices and the title of the speech are in the lower right of the piece.
While facing the art on the south wall, if you turn back to the north and walk forward, you will find carpet. When you reach the south edge of the carpet, if you were to follow the carpet east, you would find the corner of a wall that borders the east side of the foyer and runs north to serve as the eastern border for the living room. If you followed the corner of that wall to the east, you would be back at the entrances to the restrooms. If you were to follow the south edge of the carpet to the west, you would find one of the columns (this is the southernmost exposed column in this space). This column creates a natural corner for the west end of the carpet. This carpeted area includes seating for relaxing and socializing. At the north end of this carpeted space is the wood-burning fireplace. The fireplace sits on a seven-foot square platform that has Pennsylvania bluestone in it. This bluestone was taken out of the house that Dr. Jernigan owned in West Baltimore for many decades. The stone was removed during a remodeling project at the house and has been waiting patiently for a place where a touch of Dr. Jernigan was needed. As the leading civil rights leader of the blind of the twentieth century, Kenneth Jernigan gave us strength and a foundation to build upon. When you sit on this base and feel the stone, think of the teaching that Dr. Jernigan gave to us. He recognized that civil rights movements were not adequately sustained because they did not cultivate the next generation of leaders. He taught us to plan for the future and to provide a base for our next leaders to stand upon. Dr. Jacobus tenBroek’s fireplace tools are located nearby, providing the opportunity to “tend the fire” to pass on to the newer Federation leaders.
The fireplace in the center of this base is our active contribution to reflecting the flame together. The fireplace is comprised of a metal pendant that hangs from the ceiling and a glass enclosure that sits immediately on top of the base. Here fires can be burned, while Federationists sit on all sides sharing stories and building relationships.
On the wall to the east of the carpet in the foyer is a mosaic of the National Federation of the Blind logo including our symbol, our name, and our tagline. This mosaic was made by Mary Degnan, an artist who happens to be deafblind. Here is a full description of the mosaic:
A three-foot square mosaic features our orange, green, and blue logo, accented with white glass rods used for the canes. The symbol is set against a black stained-glass background that acts as a shimmering lake of color as the light reflects the iridescence of the dark glass. The name of the organization is three feet by four feet and has the same iridescent, black stained-glass background while the letters are done in a matte soft white for optimum contrast and visibility. The italicized tagline “Live the Life You Want” is done in mirror shards.
The Diane and Ray McGeorge Living Room is named for the dynamic couple that established and grew the Colorado Center for the Blind. Through the personal commitment of these two loving mentors and tough advocates, the lives of thousands of blind people have been influenced. The living room is north of the foyer. There is not a clear transition between the two spaces. However, the furniture cluster in the living room sits on a separate square of carpet from the fireplace carpet, and this area is intended to feel a little more like home than the grand openness of the foyer. The walls, millwork, and nine-foot-six-inch ceiling are black in color, known as Cyberspace, to suggest a more intimate environment. The north wall of the living room has three brand new windows—as the original window openings had been boarded up since we secured the property in 1978. In the northeast corner of the space is the piano that was previously located in the dining room. On the west wall, between the two openings to the dining room, is a large countertop with a tiled wall behind it. On the east wall is shelving for Braille books and other artifacts of the organized blind movement. On the east wall between the mosaic in the foyer and the shelving in the living room is an emergency exit door (leading to the casual space).
In the middle of the living room shelving is a fountain creating the sound of gently running water. This fountain symbolizes the fountain that was in the backyard of Diane and Ray McGeorge. Many Federationists sat out on the McGeorge deck and received the teaching and mentoring of these two leaders while listening to their fountain. By including a fountain in this space, we hope that another generation of leaders will share in intergenerational conversations with this auditory backdrop.
Calder Brannock, the artist from the District of Columbia who created the fountain, describes it this way:
This triangular boulder, measuring fifty inches tall, gained its reddish hue from the iron in the riverbed from which it was pulled, and its surface smoothed for centuries by the flowing water. Placed upright over a basin, the stone will continue to shift and develop as water again flows across it in its new home. The artist spent weeks visiting quarries to find the perfect piece of Maryland sandstone. The stone is raised off the floor of the fountain’s basin by twelve inches, making the whole structure five feet tall. The stone is cut with a flat base for stability and drilled so the tube for the water will travel up the center of the stone. The pump for the fountain is submerged in the water, limiting/eliminating its noise. The basin is filled halfway with water to amplify the noise and catch any splash. The fountain fits into the surrounding bookshelves and disappears into the room’s architecture.
When you came east through the foyer, you found two glass doors. When you go through those doors, you are transitioning from the foyer to the sleeping rooms and casual spaces. Immediately in front of you is a tiled wall. This is the backside of the entertainment wall for the family room. If you turned left (north) and followed this short hallway, you would come to the carpet that designates the corridor for the sleeping rooms. If you turn right (south) and make your way around the wall in front of you, you will enter the open family room.
This large open area provides a relaxing space for Federationists to gather in a more casual setting. At the south end is a brick wall that was exposed as part of the remodeling. The exposed brick wall runs seventy feet long. From west to east (right to left) along this brick wall, you will find the emergency exit door, a utility closet, the Barney Street elevator (which provides access to the courtyard rooms), and then a restroom. At the far west end of the corridor that runs along the brick wall is a storage closet, and at the far east end is the west entrance to the fitness room. Another memento of the building’s history is the “fire escape” sign currently hanging next to the emergency exit door in the brick wall. When the ceiling over the dining room was opened for the first time in many decades, this sign was discovered—pointing the way to what would have been the fire escape when the building was first constructed.
The center of the family room includes fourteen-foot ceilings, an entertainment wall with seating on a carpeted area, and a number of tables and chairs. There are two exposed columns in this space. The family room has a natural transition to the east to a kitchen and counter space. The entire family room and kitchen is nearly 2,200 square feet. At the north end of this space is the carpeted corridor for the sleeping rooms. The family room/kitchen space is separated from the corridor by vertical metal panels that have a series of holes punched out. These holes are in sets of six to match oversized Braille cells. Hundreds of racquetballs are available for visitors to insert into the holes to make Braille messages in the wall. There are a number of breaks between the panels so that the sleeping room corridor can be easily accessed.
The kitchen is intended to be used for training or by visitors during their stay. The west side of the kitchen features a seventeen-foot-long, high-top counter that runs from north to south. The counter accommodates twelve people on barstools. The countertop is equipped with electrical outlets. Above the countertop are pendant lights hanging from the ceiling. The east side of the kitchen includes appliances, a sink, and cabinets. A Keurig coffee maker is available on this counter.
At the far south end of the kitchen wall (east side of the family room/kitchen) is one entrance to the fitness room. If you enter the fitness room at this point, you are facing east. If you travel straight ahead, you will come to the other entrance for the fitness room. Along the wall on your right side, you will find some storage spaces for visitors to keep things while they are using the fitness room. During the remodeling, we discovered a rainbow painted on the masonry wall that is now covered by new drywall. An envelope containing a letter in Braille and print has been affixed to the masonry wall to be discovered in the future when the wall is redone. The letter was written by Mark Riccobono who served as President of the National Federation of the Blind and President of the Jacobus tenBroek Memorial Fund during the time of the remodeling project.
Immediately on your left are two single-user shower rooms separated by a water fountain (that includes a spout for filling water bottles). To the east of the shower rooms, the fitness area opens into a thirty-foot by forty-foot fitness area including a variety of exercise equipment. The flooring in this space is a dense rubber floor typically found in spaces like this.
If you exit the fitness room through the door at the east end, you come to a carpeted corridor. Following the carpet in front of you will lead you to the sleeping rooms (room 20 is in front of you). Immediately to your left is an entrance to the hang out (this room does not have a door). Immediately to your right is a set of double doors that lead into the Johnson Street wing offices. If you go through those doors and follow the wall around to the left and go to the end of the hall, you will find the emergency exit to the Johnson Street stairwell (this doorway was for many years the primary entrance to our offices). The Johnson Street stairwell leads to an exit onto Johnson Street, accessible by taking the stairs or elevator to the second floor.
This brightly decorated room measures twenty-five by nineteen feet and is intended to be a quieter space for working or, well, just hanging out. In contrast to the family room and kitchen spaces, which are very public and open, the hang out is intended to be a smaller, quieter, public space. Along the west wall of the room is a long desk space and cabinetry. Come here to sit with your laptop, use the Braille embosser, or take a phone call. Also along this wall is an amateur radio station. This station was designed by the National Federation of the Blind Amateur Radio Division. It has been dedicated to Rachel Olivero (AD9O) who served as president of the division as well as the Federation’s director of organizational technology until her passing in February 2019. While Rachel was only thirty-six years old, her love for and impact on the members of the organized blind movement was significant. It was her dream to have this station that helped bring it into reality. The east side of this room includes a variety of comfortable seating and eclectic lighting. The walls of the room include felt panels to give it a bright look and to absorb sound.
Surrounding the casual areas is a carpeted hallway that runs along the north and east sides with a small wraparound at the south leading to the east entrance of the fitness room. There are twenty-one sleeping rooms along the north and east walls. The rooms begin with number one at the far west end of the north wall, incrementing in order to the east and continuing to the south along the east wall. For reference, when you come into the casual space from the foyer and turn to the north, you are walking towards room 2. When you come to the carpet, you would turn left to get to room number 1 and right to get to the higher number rooms. Rooms 1 to 14 run along the north. They each include an entry space with a couch that converts to a full-size bed when needed, and a bedroom space with two twin-size beds past the bathroom. Rooms 16 to 20 are found along the east wall. These smaller rooms include two beds. Rooms 6 and 12 are the largest rooms and are ADA-accessible. Rooms 5 and 6 are designed to be hypoallergenic. Room 15 is a two-bedroom suite with a shared bathroom. This room includes 15A and 15B to designate the two separate bedrooms. Every room includes at least one large window measuring roughly six feet square. The rooms have been designed to minimize noise. The hallway walls in the sleeping room area are painted a sandy color called Intellectual Gray, while the walls around the doors are light blue (AquaSphere). The changes in hallway color are demarcated by a “reveal,” a metal floor-to-ceiling accent molding. The sleeping room doors and frames are a bright cobalt blue (Oceanside). Rooms include motion-sensing LED lights with push button controls and climate control panels. The goal is to eventually give each sleeping room a theme related to the history and advancement of the organized blind movement.