Six Baltimore City Public Schools have new Teachers’ Wellness Lounges thanks to the Educator Support Collaborative – a non-profit group comprised of more than 30 Baltimore-area companies, including numerous NAIOP MD members.

The pro-bono effort leveraged more than $250,000 worth of architectural, interior design and construction services as well as in-kind donations of new furniture and other materials to perform dramatic makeovers of lounges at Augusta Fells Savage Institute of Visual Arts, Gwynns Falls Elementary, Harlem Park Elementary and Middle School, Matthew A. Henson Elementary, Johnston Square Elementary and Mergenthaler Vocational Technical High School (MERVO).

Recently renovated teachers’ lounge at MERVO High School. Image courtesy of The Verve Partnership.

Founder Paul Wolman, the former CEO of special events company P.W. Feats, collaborated with concerned citizens and local companies to start the initiative after recognizing the urgent need to improve the conditions for Baltimore City teachers when many were asked to “stretch to their limit to accommodate the evolving needs of students and their families.”

“Especially as we witnessed during the pandemic, teachers are generally over-worked, under-appreciated and dealing with stress from many different sources,” explained Wolman. “We felt extreme urgency to show our support and, more importantly, make a meaningful difference in their lives. Significantly improving the teachers’ lounges became the focal point, because this is the place teachers depend on to unwind and decompress. But, many of the lounges have fallen into disarray and were in need of major improvements. Now that we have a formula to succeed, we intend to rally our community and continue with these efforts.”

The Verve Partnership oversaw the efforts of six different design teams, with a mission of working with teachers and staff to reimagine traditional teacher lounges and create areas of respite that are intentionally designed with wellness in mind. This was accomplished by reimagining the spaces with warm lighting, soothing paint colors, comfortable seating, new appliances and plumbing, and kitchenettes stocked with coffee, tea and snacks. Other local design companies involved with the project included Arris Design, Gensler & Associates, Hord Coplan Macht, Moseley Architects, Danielle Nekimken/Jerome Gray and Price Modern.

When redesigning the teachers’ lounge at MERVO, the Verve Partnership team started with a visioning session and focus group involving teachers, staff and the community school coordinator. Participants were asked to describe the culture of the school, what makes it unique and the attributes they would like celebrated in the space. Answers included: feel more relaxed, healing, family and confidence. Participants also were asked to clip images from magazines that matched the look and feel they wanted the lounge to have.

The renovated space at MERVO included new barstools, tables and chairs, a lounge area, new appliances and a vision board on which teachers can write inspiring messages.

“The unfiltered input generated from various stakeholders helped guide the design process at each school, as evidenced by the breadth of different schemes, layouts and paint colors used in each project,” explained Kelly Ennis, Founding Principal of the Verve Partnership.

Emmanuel Hall, an English and Interactive Media Teacher at MERVO, liked what he saw.

“You know, it’s the little things that end up being the big things that make a true difference,” Hall said. “This renovation was sorely needed and it means a lot. More than you can imagine, actually. This space makes you feel confident and recharged. It’s our own little respite from the world and teachers really look forward to spending time here.”