Schmoke wants detention site dropped

April 01, 1994|By Norris P. West | Norris P. West,Sun Staff Writer Staff writer Michael A. Fletcher contributed to this story.

Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke is convinced that Northwest Baltimore residents won't accept a juvenile detention facility in their neighborhoods along Wabash Avenue. But state officials say residents may change their minds after they learn more about it.

Mayor Schmoke yesterday suggested that state and city officials locate the center in a "less controversial" place.

"I don't think the Wabash community is going to accept the facility there," he said. "I just think there's a perception that the facility is going to be a jail. So at this point, we want to continue to look for other sites."

State officials said they are considering other sites, but they intend to forge ahead with plans to build the courthouse-detention center complex in the 5900 block of Wabash Avenue.

The $40 million project is spearheaded by the Maryland Department of Juvenile Services, but the city and other state agencies are part of the site selection process. City and state officials often have sparred in the background about the facility's location.

Carol P. Hyman, a Juvenile Services spokeswoman, said the mayor's comments did not eliminate the Wabash site. She said her department would continue discussions with Northwest Baltimore residents.

"We have to work on educating the community to the fact that this center is not going to be detrimental to them," she said.

Ms. Hyman said the department is reviewing at least two other sites, which she declined to identify, but has encountered problems that could be difficult to overcome.

The wrangling began in January when the mayor suggested a site near the Jones Fall Expressway and Cold Spring Lane. State officials dismissed that and later settled on the Wabash site, near the existing District Court building and the Reisterstown Road Plaza Metro Stop. City officials have not endorsed the Wabash site.

Residents near the Wabash location say they fear the facility would make their communities unsafe and cause property values to plummet.

More than 300 residents of the predominantly black and Jewish neighborhoods around the site packed a meeting March 15 to voice outrage over the proposal.

Helena S. Hicks, president of the Grove Park Improvement Association, yesterday welcomed the mayor's comment on looking for other locations.

"I think he's exactly right," said Ms. Hicks, adding that the communities never would accept the center. "We are not saying 'not in our neighborhood.' We're saying 'not in anybody's neighborhood.' "

The center is modeled on a modern, 144-bed facility in Indianapolis that houses courtrooms and young offenders awaiting hearings. The center would integrate the fragmented components of Baltimore's juvenile justice system with space for prosecutors, public defenders, social service workers and probation officers.

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