diagram of the Baltimore Bauhaus, with the charter school, housing rehab, building & loan, and additional businesses

Baltimore Bauhaus

A charter school committed to developing students' business skills as they transform their neighborhoods

Contact: Deane Nettles

Look, everyone has to have a job, right?

With very few exceptions, everyone in our society has to work in business, whether it's their own or someone else's. But we're never taught about business in school. So why not teach students about how business works right from the get-go?

("Baltimore Bauhaus" honors the German Bauhaus, an art school built after WWI, where students learned industrial design through experimenting with tools and materials.)

In the Baltimore Bauhaus, we would configure the curriculum to be project-based and centered on learning how businesses operate. (See examples under "Charter School.") By learning about businesses, when students get out in the world of work, they will understand what they are doing, where they fit in the overall business, and be able to make informed choices about where they want to go from there.

To reinforce that learning, the school would run a business and the students would be exposed to all aspects of that business. As empty buildings are a plentiful, inexpensive resource in Baltimore City and there is a great need for low-cost housing, an obvious business choice would be rehabbing those houses.

When people learn that they can do simple things for themselves they feel competent, successful, and in control of their lives. Feeling confident, they are willing to take on new challenges. Learning to rehab houses would provide students with that feeling of competence; in addition, they will be witness to the transformation of their neighborhoods by their own hands.

Finally, the skills they learn will remain valuable to them when they own their own homes. The ability to use tools is also a transferable skill, useful in other arenas. These skills will make them more resilient and contribute not only to their growth but their development.

The vision of the Baltimore Bauhaus is that, when the students graduate, they would:

  1. Have real-life business skills
  2. Have the knowledge to start and run a small business
  3. Be able to go to business school and have a 2-year head start over the other students
  4. Or, if they take a job, to have a mile-high view of where they fit into that business and be able to contribute to its success, instead of just "having a job."

In addition, the Baltimore Bauhaus will serve as an engine to supply inexpensive housing for the working poor and the homeless in an area where rents might be $500 a month when they only make $1000 a month, and home ownership is out of reach. Students would actually see their learning make a difference in their own community.

Intended Consequences

The result of this would be a neighborhood that is capable of working its way out of poverty. It would also create a more resilient community, capable of handling minor problems as they arise instead of being defeated by them. For instance, if there was a natural disaster, people would know what to do to start working together instead of waiting to be helped. This school would create an ecology of empowerment.

It is also possible that this could become a partially self-sustaining school. What if the profits could create a fund that could support students going to college or starting new businesses?

Flow chart overview of Baltimore Bauhaus project: 1) Charter school based on business, running a business creating housing, 2) Rehabbing or building houses, 3) Building and Loan, and 4) diversification into other businesses.

1) Charter School

Charter school by day, taught from the viewpoint of business.


In addition, the school would teach:

(Another approach might be 1 woodworking, 2.1 plumbing, 2.2 electrical, 3.1 metalworking, 3.2 makers workshop, 4 independent study)

This is a Bauhaus-type approach that would introduce students to materials, show them how to shape and mold them, and then use them to solve real-world problems.

In addition there would be real-world learning through going down to City Hall and talking with the Business Development department, going to Permits, etc.; talking with insurers; field trips to real-world businesses; then through running the school's business.

Sample Project

Students could spend the first day building their own desks from a kit, first individually, and then as an assembly line. At the end of the first year they design and construct the kit for the desk for the next year's students, and watch at the beginning of the next year as that year's students assemble them. And then serve as mentors to the next year when year two designs the next iteration.

row houses being rehabbed by students

2) Rehabbing Neighborhood Houses

A school for business needs a business to run. The business would be rehabbing housing in the neighborhood.

I've discussed this with Habitat for Humanity, and they are definitely willing to partner with this project. THe cost of rehabbing a house is approximately the same cost as building a house, about $70,000 each. If partnered with Habitat, they could provide the financing, eliminating section #3, Bua Building & Loan.

It's possible would also be creating a model for the efficient rehabbing of buildings, including demolition, lead abatement, roofs, floors, walls, windows, electrical and plumbing. Houses could employ solar energy and other modern green technology, increasing the student's value on the job market.

Another approach is, if the city is willing to tear down sufficient old buildings, affordable homes may be able to be provided by creating tiny homes ($20-30,000) or homes made out of shipping crates ($30-40,000).

Either way, houses are return to tax roll and lived in by owners, not renters.

Addendum: As mentioned above, I discussed this project briefly with Mike Metzger with Habitat for Humanity/Chesapeake on August 20, 2015. He said:

  1. It may be possible to work with Habitat for Humanity on this project.
  2. The cost of rehabbing a house is about $100,000-$150,000 to gut, lead abate, and make it energy-star compliant, so to be affordable there would have to be donations, grants, etc. involved, which would further encourage the school working with Habitat.
  3. Habitat has worked with other schools on work training before.
  4. Houses generally take 4-9 mos. to rehab, and require a combination of low-skilled and high-skilled labor.
  5. The drawback in the past has been student transportation to rehab sites, so this would encourage positioning the school in a disadvantaged neighborhood such as Sandtown.
building & loan, source of funding

3) Building & Loan

We imagine it will be difficult for the people we're targeting to get loans. We create a local Building & Loan to mortgage houses for $45,000 on 15-year fixed loans at 5% + 2.4% property tax, the owners could pay $450 a month. (This might still be too high.)

Building & Loan could also provide loans for repairs to existing homes, possibly other loans for people who establish reliable credit.

Sale of homes returns money to Building & Loan to invest in the next house.

A structure would also have to be created so that the houses didn't get "flipped" immediately by the owners if/when neighborhood property valuations go up. Perhaps require it be sold back to the bank for price plus inflation (minus rehab costs) if sold in less than 15 years. Bank would then maintain a waiting list.

Side businesses that support the rehabbing business or support the community

Long-term goal: What do we do when all the neighborhoods are rehabbed?

4) Diversification

Additional businesses would also be created to increase competencies and to extend the scope of the project.


1 Department of Legislative Services survey as quoted in City Paper, Vol. 39, No. 31, August 5-12, 2015, "A New Course," Rachel Cohen, pg 23

2 "Schools of the 21st Century," Architectural Record

Deane Nettles

Deane Nettles is a graphic designer and graphic and web design professor — teaching creativity, flexibility, and hand skills to aspiring graphic designers.

His father used to build things and his mother and father together used to rehab houses, build fences, and make repairs around the house. From them and from shop class in junior high he learned how to use tools and not to be afraid to make things. Trial and error, friends and the Internet have taught him many other skills.

Ten years ago, he moved to Baltimore and bought a wonderful old row house and learned a whole lot of new skills. Out of this he realized that a house is just four walls and a roof, and that inside those walls anything is possible.

What inspired this project was driving on North Avenue and noticing how many homes were in good shape but have minor deficiencies that will eventually cause them to fail, or were in good shape but boarded up, and how easy it would be to make structurally sound again.