University purchases Stieff Silver building

By ALYSSA WOODEN | November 9, 2017

The Stieff Silver Building, a 1.2 acre industrial complex, rises up above the surrounding Hampden neighborhood across from Wyman Park, about a mile from Homewood.

The Whiting School of Engineering (WSE) has rented several labs and offices in the space since 2002, and earlier this month the University announced that it had purchased the building for $17.55 million.

The Stieff Company, a Baltimore silversmith firm, first built the facility in 1925. The company was founded in 1892 and closed in 2009.

In 1929, a few years after construction of the original building finished, the company doubled its size, resulting in financial difficulties during the Great Depression. In the 1950s, the Company began manufacturing pewter, and the factory doubled in size again in 1971.

According to Ed Schlesinger, the Benjamin T. Rome Dean of WSE, the University has considered buying the building for several years and ultimately made the purchase to expand its research and administrative offices.

“We decided that we needed both the current and additional space going into the future,” Schlesinger said. “It was actually cheaper to buy the buildings.”

Schlesinger said that WSE financed the purchase by taking out a loan from the University and that the school will pay the loan back with the money that previously went towards lease payments.

In addition to WSE, the University’s Space Telescope Science Institute, which processes images from NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope, also has offices in the building.

Several tenants not affiliated with the University rent space in Stieff as well. Schlesinger said that the University plans to honor all previous lease arrangements for third-party tenants.

Hopkins currently uses Stieff for specialized research facilities.

Schlesinger noted that WSE plans to expand these research facilities in the building as well as add new administrative offices for the Engineering for Professionals program.

Engineering for Professionals is a collaboration between WSE and the Applied Physics Lab (APL) that offers graduate degrees and certificates. Most classes in the program are offered at the APL or online, but most of the administrative offices for the program are located in Columbia, Md.

Schlesinger also said that as an industrial building, Stieff is particularly well-suited to many of WSE’s current research projects and planned additions.

“There is really no cost-effective way to replicate that kind of building on the Homewood Campus,” Schlesinger said.

One new facility Schlesinger mentioned is a materials characterization and processing facility that will be used by researchers from many University divisions, including WSE and the Krieger School of Arts and Sciences.

According to a 2013 article in the Washington Monthly, Hopkins has conducted classified research at Stieff in the past. Some are concerned that purchasing the building violates a University policy which states that no classified research may occur on an academic campus.

According to a 2005 University document titled “Policy on Classified and Otherwise Restricted Research,” this policy is in place because of the University’s “commitment to openness” in its research and academic pursuits. Schlesinger said that the purchase of Stieff would not result in any change to this policy or its implementation.

Schlesinger also discussed planned renovations to the building. As Stieff is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, there are limits to what the University can do with the exterior on the building.

“We’re still in the planning stages of what that facility will look like,” Schlesinger said.

He also noted the building’s unique role in Baltimore’s history.

“It’s an admirable history in the sense of craftsmanship, dedication to their employees during the Great Depression and Baltimore landmarks,” he said.

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