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Nov. 5, 2013 12:00 pm

Baltimore City Robotics Center gets 18-month trial period [VIDEO]

A large, second-floor room at 1001 West Pratt Street will serve as the location of the Baltimore City Robotics Center, an after-school practice space for students who participate in competitive robotics in the city and surrounding counties.

Attendees at September's Robotics Expo at 1001 W. Pratt St.

Full disclosure: The Baltimore Robotics Expo was a Baltimore Innovation Week 2013 event. Technical.ly Baltimore organizes the annual Baltimore Innovation Week.
Update 11/6/13 12:15 p.m.: Mincarelli said the space for the Baltimore City Robotics Center is "gratis as an in-kind donation" from the Abell Foundation.

For at least a year and a half, Baltimore city schools’ robotics teams have a permanent home in Hollins Market. It seems that showing off the space worked.

A large, second-floor room at 1001 West Pratt Street will serve as the location of the Baltimore City Robotics Center, an after-school practice space for students who participate in competitive robotics in the city and surrounding counties. It’s the same space used for a city robotics expo in September, as Technical.ly Baltimore reported.

1001 West Pratt Street

1001 West Pratt Street

Adjacent to the B&O Railroad Museum, the building at 1001 W. Pratt St. already serves another purpose. A methadone clinic, opened in 2012, is operated by the University of Maryland Medical System (UMMS) on the first floor of the building. Next door at 1101 W. Pratt St. is drug-treatment facility Baltimore Behavioral Health (BBH). Both buildings are owned by West Pratt Holdings, LLC, for which Abell Foundation president Robert Embry is the resident agent.

It’s a rather apparent intersection of how Baltimore needs to change: drug rehabilitation and STEM-focused education.

In September, it was uncertain whether Ed Mullin — the host of that month’s robotics expo and the founder of the Baltimore City Robotics Center — would be given any space inside 1001 W. Pratt St. for a robotics gym where students from city schools can go after school to participate in competitive robotics scrimmages and learn the rules of the sport. (The Abell Foundation could not be reached for comment for this story.)

But according to Paul Mincarelli, director of operations at the Baltimore City Robotics Center, the center hashed out an agreement with UMMS, which operates on the eastern half of the second floor at 1001 W. Pratt St., and is now starting an 18-month pilot program.

“With the go-ahead from Abell, we will have 24/7 access to the large space where we held the expo,” Mincarelli said.

Events at the expo will be held after school and on weekends, said Mincarelli, and he’ll staff the center during normal working hours.

Watch robots launch Frisbees during the Battle O’ Baltimore in September:

The safety of having students at that location, though, has become a question. Since the methodone clinic opened, Hollins Market residents have complained of crime and drug dealing. Some residents have mentioned collecting needles around the Charm City Circulator Orange Route bus stop.

Mincarelli said that a stipulation of the robotics center’s sublease is that the center is “required to provide security for events.”

“I wouldn’t say that Abell and UMMS were worried about safety per se, but security is a requirement because it is a medical facility,” he said. “Youth events would take place in the after-school hours and weekends, which are when BBH and the methadone clinic are not serving patients.”

At the September expo, several local residents stopped by, voicing support for the robotics center to be located in their corner of Baltimore city.

“I think it’s absolutely fantastic news,” said resident Robert Meyer via e-mail. Meyer, an attorney who moved to the neighborhood in early 2012, is a member of the Hollins Roundhouse Community Association.

“The opening of the methadone clinic in that building last January caused a host of problems, in particular open-air drug dealing, that the community is still struggling with,” he said. “I’m overjoyed to hear that the Abell Foundation will now be bringing something to the area which will benefit rather than further burden the local community.”

No robotics events are scheduled yet.

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Andrew Zaleski

Andrew Zaleski is a freelance journalist in Philadelphia and the former lead reporter for Technical.ly Baltimore. Before moving to Philadelphia in June 2014, he was a contributing writer to Baltimore City Paper and a Tech Check commentator for WYPR 88.1 FM, Baltimore city’s National Public Radio affiliate. He has written for The Atlantic, Outside, Richmond magazine, Washington City Paper, Baltimore magazine, Baltimore Style magazine, Next City, Grist.org, The Atlantic Cities, and elsewhere.

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