A year after Institute of Notre Dame officials said they were closing the all-girls Catholic high school, a group that has hoped to save the institution announced Wednesday that it has identified two potential locations for a replacement.
The Institute of Notre Dame, which includes U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and former U.S. Sen. Barbara Mikulski among its alumnae, closed at the end of June 2020 after officials said enrollment was declining and the school did not have funds to remain open.
Soon after the announcement, a group of alumnae, teachers, and former staff sprung into action and formed a 501c3 nonprofit organization, called Saving IND, Inc.
The School Sisters of Notre Dame founded the school in 1847 at 901 Aisquith Street in East Baltimore, where it remained until its closure in 2020.
Saving IND leaders said the school’s old location on Aisquith Street is “no longer a viable option” because the School Sisters of Notre Dame have resisted the group’s reopening efforts.
But the nonprofit announced on Wednesday they have identified two potential locations that they are considering using to open a new iteration of the Institute of Notre Dame.
“We have identified two very specific locations in the Baltimore County area that we have toured,” Drena Fertetta, a Saving IND group leader, said in a statement. “We think both sites are viable structures to open as a high school. They are both under serious consideration.”
Fertetta told Baltimore Fishbowl that both potential sites are in Baltimore County and are undergoing feasibility and engineering studies, but the group is not ready to disclose addresses.
The group has also identified a potential benefactor, whose identity the group is also not disclosing at this time. After the studies are completed, pending favorable results, Saving IND would purchase one of the sites “pretty quickly after,” Fertetta said.
Fertetta said the new school will not open for the 2021-2022 school year.
The new school will not bear the same name, crest or logo as the Institute of Notre Dame. Those are all the property of the School Sisters of Notre Dame, who have not been involved with Saving IND “out of their request, not ours,” Fertetta said.
In searching for a new location, Fertetta said Saving IND surveyed former students, teachers, staff and other community members about what was “least appealing” about the old school and what they were looking for in the new school.
Respondents said they wanted more parking spaces, athletic fields that would allow for competitive teams, the ability to accommodate 300 girls or more and room for future expansion, Fertetta said.
Saving IND also sought sites not close to other schools, particularly all-girls schools, as well as places with nearby feeder schools for a Catholic high school, existing structures that could house the school, and socioeconomic diversity, Fertetta said.
“When we think about the tuition and type of curriculum we want to offer, what does that look like in terms of different socioeconomic levels and where do we pull from?” she said.
Fertetta said people familiar with the Institute of Notre Dame can expect the new school to be a blend of old and new.
“Is it going to be the same exact institution? No, it’s not,” she said. “But the goal is to continue to be that level of empowerment, that level of engagement, and keeping traditions for years to come. I like to think of it as improving on what we had. Old traditions meet new ways, if you will.”
Saving IND worked with Baltimore County Councilmember David Marks as they navigated their search for a location for a new school
“The women from Saving IND have been invaluable,” Marks said in a statement. “While collaborating with my office in their efforts to establish a new, all-girls high school, they have also dedicated their time to multiple community service projects.
Marks said the nonprofit worked with his office and Weis Markets last fall to collect thousands of pounds of groceries and household items for vulnerable families and the Baltimore County Student Support Network, which provides food and other resources to Baltimore County students living in poverty. The group repeated their efforts this spring.
“Candidly, this group of resolute volunteers has been among the most active organizations in our community,” Marks added. “I am enormously proud of all of their accomplishments.”
Saving IND has developed curriculum plans and have worked with the Maryland state and Baltimore County officials and independent certification organizations to align their plans and secure project support, the group said.
After the Institute of Notre Dame closed its doors in June, the classes of 2021, 2022, and 2023 enrolled at other schools.
Saving IND member Mandi Michael said the group is fighting to give some of those girls who choose to attend the new school, and future students, similar experiences to what Institute of Notre Dame alumnae have had for more than 170 years.
“As graduates of IND we were all devastated when we heard the sad news, but we were most concerned about the young women who were students there last May,” Michael said in a statement. “We are doing this for them, and for the hundreds of young women who will be able to attend the new school in the future.”
Carolyn Buck, who taught at the Institute of Notre Dame for 30 years, said the school taught its students not to take “no” for an answer and not to give up — a lesson that has prevailed over the past year.
“Although the challenges we face may seem insurmountable to some people in the community, our mission remains unchanged,” Buck said in a statement. “We are committed to providing academic excellence in line with the school’s rich history for future students and for the Baltimore area.”
The Institute of Notre Dame stood as a notable institution in Baltimore, where it provided shelter as part of the Underground Railroad and served as a medical facility during the Civil War and the 1918 flu pandemic.