by Christine Hansen
When Mark Dent drove by the remains of fire damaged Mount Vernon United Methodist Church in the Hampden neighborhood of Baltimore, he knew it was meant to be. Dent, President of Chesapeake Systems, the region’s leading provider of Mac based support and service, was looking for new space to accommodate the company’s expansion.
“We had wanted to own a building for quite some time and I drove by the building and saw the for sale sign,” Dent said.
The church was a City fixture, opening in 1879 serving workers in nearby mills, and remaining home to an active congregation until the church fell victim to lightning and fire damage in 2008. Stained glass windows, once a prominent centerpiece of the churches structure, were blown out, and walls and floors were dismantled, due to fire extinguishing efforts. The damaged church remained there untouched for two years – until Dent came along.
Chesapeake Systems was housed at Hampden’s Mill Centre, but needed more space to accommodate its rapidly growing business. The church, up for sale at a nominal price, was a perfect fit for the company. The 9,000 square foot building could house Chesapeake Systems’ retail floor, training rooms, office spaces, and technical center. In January of 2010, the company presented its first contract to purchase the property. After months of meetings with the neighboring community, state and city officials, the company finally completed the purchase of the property on November 5, 2010.
With the old office location just a few blocks away, Dent was able to juggle the renovation project while working full-time. The renovations began in March of 2011, and the company officially moved into its new headquarters the weekend of July 4th.
“It was a very hairy time. We had to be out of our old space by June 30 but didn’t have our official use and occupancy permit until July 12,” Dent said.
But working together with a 20 man crew, the company was able to move in quickly. The damaged church was transformed. The company restored many of the architectural features, including stone walls, chestnut beams, an organ, and stained glass windows. Hickory floors were installed to replace the floors that had been damaged in the fire. Stained glass windows that were blown out were replicated to match its original.
“We were pretty much able to keep a lot of the original structure of the building. Some of the stained glass windows were completely destroyed, but we were able to find a company that duplicated the design of the windows that were destroyed,” Dent said.
And, Brecht’s daughter, a figurative painter, was commissioned to design the large stained glass window facing the Chestnut Avenue side of the building. The design features the company’s logo, while also reflecting the tale of the building’s ultimate fate.
Chesapeake Systems was founded in 1990 by George Brecht, current Chairman of the Board, in the basement of his home. In 1995, Brecht got involved with another company that was interested in opening a North American sales and service operation center. At the same time, Mark Dent was hired to fix Brecht’s computer, and after some conversation, Dent joined Brecht at Chesapeake Systems. Dent brought along his loyal customers, and Chesapeake Systems began to grow, offering sales and support services for Mac based platforms.
Since then, the company has grown to 23 employees, and offers service, support and training. The company’s Professional Services division offers training and work flow support for the video and broadcast, defense and education industries, and their Home and Office division offers support services for professional and corporate clients. Clients include the Baltimore Orioles, Disney affiliates and the BBC.
“The single biggest thing we do now is video work flow solutions for the government and corporate broadcasters and post-production houses,” Dent said. “We go in and analyze an existing work flow and we will suggest hardware and software solutions to increase productivity and pricing to help them make their operations more efficient.”
With the renovation and a new office space, the company is expanding its retail center and hopes to hire more employees.
“With this new space, we are looking to add more employees for our retail section. We also hope to become an incubator for those folks that are starting at the ground level,” Dent said. “This building has a lot of history and ties to the Baltimore community. We hope that our repurposing of this iconic structure will help revitalize the community. We are a small business – we aren’t just guys who can fix your computer – we are hoping to become technology partners to our fellow small businesses.”