Officials pick new site for juvenile jail E. Baltimore location is across Hillen Street from rejected spot

$42 million project

Supporters hope jobs for neighbors will ease opposition

January 16, 1996|By Kate Shatzkin and JoAnna Daemmrich | Kate Shatzkin and JoAnna Daemmrich,SUN STAFF

An article in yesterday's editions incorrectly implied that Hillen Tire, a business on the proposed site of a new state juvenile justice center, has closed. The company is still operating on the property at Hillen and Front streets. If officials go forward with the center at that site, construction likely will not begin until at least late 1997.

The Sun regrets the errors.

City and state officials believe they now have a site for a long-awaited juvenile justice center in East Baltimore that will be acceptable to the community and provide jobs for local residents.

The $42 million justice center has come close to reality several times before, only to be scuttled by neighborhood opposition.

The new site, at the former Hillen Tire in East Baltimore, is across Hillen Street from a 5.4-acre parking lot that officials proposed in February to be the center's home. That site fell through when the owners did not want to sell and because of community concerns. Before that, the state eyed a location on Cold Spring Lane just west of the Jones Falls Expressway and another on Wabash Avenue.


Some East Baltimore residents balked at the announcement last year, saying they did not want another correctional facility in their midst. The Baltimore City Detention Center, Maryland Penitentiary and several other prisons are just blocks away.

But Stuart O. Simms, secretary of the state Department of Juvenile Justice, said Friday that he had promised to help community residents get some portion of the jobs the center would create, and to try to get local contractors to help build it. He also said he was working with Gov. Parris N. Glendening to get money to improve playgrounds and basketball courts in the neighborhood.

Baltimore had to act soon or risk losing state money to build the center, said Del. Howard "Pete" Rawlings, a Baltimore Democrat who heads the House Appropriations Committee.

He said he had warned city leaders to settle on a site because it would be difficult to continue to reserve money at a time when numerous other counties are clamoring for state aid for construction projects.

Baltimore has no detention beds for juveniles. The Cheltenham Youth Facility, where most of Baltimore's youths are sent, is more than an hour away and packed with about 250 youths in buildings designed to hold 167.

City Juvenile Court takes place in the Clarence M. Mitchell Jr. Courthouse, where lawyers, victims, defendants and parents are crowded into a small, dark hallway to wait for hearings.

"I don't think this is going to fall through," said state Sen. Barbara A. Hoffman, chairwoman of the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee. "Hopefully we will see the juveniles kept less time in detention and more time in programs that can make them good citizens, or [give them] punishment, or both."

The 220,000-square-foot center would include at least 144 beds for youths awaiting trial; courtrooms for juvenile masters; offices for assistant public defenders and assistant state's attorneys; and general space for mentoring programs and neighborhood meetings.

Former City Councilman Carl Stokes, who was involved in earlier discussions, said he remains concerned that East Baltimore is becoming "a village of penal institutions."

"The kids -- all they have to look at is these penal institutions and vacant houses, and there's not much new development except more penal institutions now for our kids," he said. "People are real concerned because it was rejected twice by communities in Northwest Baltimore. If it's put here in East Baltimore, the question is if there will be any real spinoff in terms of economic benefit to the surrounding community."

But state Del. Elijah E. Cummings, a Baltimore Democrat, said Mr. Simms' pledges -- and concern about what to do with young criminals -- had brought some residents around.

"Most that I have talked to have expressed the fact that they feel like they are the dumping ground for various penal-type facilities," he said. "But I think a number of residents are coming to fully understand that we have to address the juvenile problem."

The site, bounded by Front, Gay, Exeter and Hillen streets, is in three pieces of about 5.4 acres total, with the largest piece taking up 3.72 acres.

Mr. Simms said Friday that he hoped to hear by March whether legislators would approve $4.8 million for land acquisition and building design. Even if the acquisition goes through, construction still probably could not begin until late 1997 or early 1998, Mr. Simms said.

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