Juvenile center is right at home in Midwestern city

March 28, 1994|By Norris P. West | Norris P. West,Sun Staff Writer

INDIANAPOLIS -- When Marion County built a juvenile detention center and courthouse in his neighborhood in 1959, Phillip C. Glover and other members of his church opposed the concept that has become a model for a proposed center in Baltimore.

"In a way of speaking, we did not want it there," said Mr. Glover, 71, as he sat in the shadow of the sprawling Marion County Juvenile Justice Complex and recalled how his Galilee Baptist Church fought in vain to keep the center out of his Brightwood community.

Thirty-five years later, his attitude has changed.

He says the center's presence hasn't made anyone afraid in Brightwood, a community of low- and moderate-income black families. Even better, he says, is the fact that a newer, brighter and more secure 144-bed juvenile complex was built on the site four years ago to house youths awaiting court hearings.

Mr. Glover's thoughts are echoed by a number of Brightwood residents and community association members these days. Those living and working near the Marion County complex have accepted the concept -- one that has sparked controversy in a Northwest Baltimore neighborhood targeted for a similar center.

Maryland's Department of Juvenile Services plans to build a 210,000 square-foot juvenile justice center in the 5900 block of Wabash Ave. to hold city youths awaiting hearings.

Juvenile Services Secretary Mary Ann Saar says the $40 million project would speed and integrate the fragmented juvenile justice system for Baltimore youths, who now are held at four detention centers outside the city. Officials hope to open the center, across from the Reisterstown Road Plaza Metro Stop, in July 1997.

But some neighbors fear the center would boost the area's crime rate and hurt housing values.

Helena S. Hicks, president of Baltimore's Grove Park Improvement Association, says her area has enough public facilities. She criticizes the state for building undesirable projects in black neighborhoods.

"People always say that black people don't take care of their communities and homes, but they don't talk about the kind of intrusive facilities they put in to drive them down," she says. "The reason it's done over and over again is that black people accept it."

No controversy in Marion

Unlike Baltimore, there was no controversy when Marion County built its new juvenile complex on the site of its older facility. Area residents say they had lived in peace with the older facility for 31 years.

Indianapolis' new complex, the model for Baltimore's proposed center, has 144 beds and space for courthouses, public defenders, prosecutors, probation officers, police and social service workers. It's about half the size of the one proposed for Baltimore.

The modern complex, whose light-brown bricks are striped with thick, burgundy lines, is flanked by two churches, an elementary school, a gas station, a fast-food restaurant and a small shopping center. Surrounding Brightwood has a mixture of homes -- some, more than 40 years old, are interspersed with those built since 1989 by a company owned by basketball legend Oscar Robertson.

William B. Wheatley, principal of Indianapolis Public School No. 37, where 65 percent of the students are classified as disadvantaged, says the center has not created any problems.

"It's so quiet that you never really know they're over there," says Mr. Wheatley, whose school abuts the facility.

He says the center often uses the school's gym for activities after students are dismissed, and the center's employees sometimes speak to students about staying out of trouble.

Derrick Robertson, a nephew of Oscar Robertson and manager of the Oxford Terrace homes, says the center's presence was not an issue when his uncle decided to build homes in the neighborhood for low- and moderate-income families.

He says no prospective buyer has expressed concern about paying an average of $60,000 -- housing prices in Indianapolis are lower than in Baltimore -- for a home near the center. And no homeowner has complained about the center after moving there, he says.

Gwen Wiltermood, a real estate agent and a member of the Brightwood-Mapleton Community Association, says the center's presence has not prevented her from selling houses in the area. But she says she might think twice about buying a house too close to the center.

"If I were going to buy a house and there was a juvenile center in a block or within a couple of blocks, I would be hesitant," she says. "Not for myself, but thinking that if I had to sell, the next person wouldn't be as understanding."

An orderly atmosphere

Inside the center are bright cream-colored walls and carpeted floors -- officials say the color has a psychological effect of promoting good behavior by residents. Visitors must go through a metal detector and two doors whose locks are operated by a control center, which has computer monitors and communications equipment.

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