Fairfield Homes awaits demolition 20-acre site holds key to district's rebirth

June 23, 1996|By Eric Siegel | Eric Siegel,SUN STAFF

It's been 10 months since the Lafayette Courts public housing project in East Baltimore was reduced to piles of rubble in a brief but spectacular series of blasts, and it's five weeks until the Lexington Terrace complex on the Westside is scheduled for similar destruction.

Yet a third project is awaiting demolition that promises to be far less dramatic but in its way no less significant and symbolic.

That project is South Baltimore's long-abandoned Fairfield Homes -- some 300 low-rise units on a 20-acre site overgrown with weeds that looks like a set for a bleak, futuristic science fiction meeting like "Terminator 2" or "Blade Runner."

Unlike Lafayette Courts and Lexington Terrace, desolate high-rise towers flanking downtown, Fairfield Homes will not be brought down by carefully placed sticks of dynamite but by more mundane bulldozers and wrecking balls.

And unlike Lafayette and Lexington, where the last residents moved out just months before the scheduled implosions, Fairfield, in the midst of an industrial area in South Baltimore dominated by chemical plants, oil distributors and asphalt manufacturers, has been empty since 1987.

Because of that, the importance of Fairfield's destruction lies not as an end of an era of governmental warehousing of the poor, but rather in its presence in the center of an area of the city's federally funded empowerment zone. That zone is slated for redevelopment as an unusual industrial park where one industry's waste products become another's raw materials.

"It's important for us to develop the site," said Larisa Salamacha, senior development officer for Baltimore Development Corp., which is overseeing work on the so-called ecological-industrial park. "It's symbolic of the beginning of physical development."

Ian Neuman -- an executive of Fairfield's Abbey Drum Co. and a member of the board overseeing the $100 million empowerment zone effort to breathe new life into decayed areas of East, West and South Baltimore -- agrees that business leaders are waiting for tangible signs of progress.

"To a lot of the businesses down here, this has taken a long time," he said of the demolition of Fairfield Homes, which was built in the 1940s to house workers building World War II ships and later was converted into public housing.

Neuman ticked off positive developments in Fairfield: selection of a master planner to identify infrastructure and land needs; designation last month as an area in which businesses were given flexibility in meeting environmental standards, and hiring of an ombudsman to work with area businesses and the 257 residents of private homes.

But none, he said, has the potential pizzazz of demolishing the housing project.

"You want something that's got a real consensus, that's it," he added. "Everybody is in complete agreement: 'Let's bulldoze it away and get it done.' "

Last winter, empowerment zone officials hoped that the demolition of Fairfield Homes, an island of city-owned land in an area of privately owned property, would have been well under way by now -- at no cost to the city.

The National Association of Home Builders' Research Center had selected Fairfield for a federally funded demonstration project to salvage for resale as much material as possible before demolition. The idea was to offer employment and training to workers while reducing disposal costs.

The project was to begin with one eight-unit building in March and then move to the rest of the 30-odd buildings.

"Research Center staff will work with contracted labor to disassemble framed wall and floor assemblies as well as finished components such as hardwood flooring, doors and shelving," the NAHB said in its proposal. "The salvaged material will be stockpiled at the site in preparation for its resale."

But the NAHB received federal funding only for the first eight units, officials said.

"It would have been extremely helpful if the whole project had been funded," said Salamacha. "But you play the cards you're dealt."

Another problem is asbestos, which must be removed before work can be done.

That has pushed the cost of demolition to more than $1 million, Salamacha said.

"We're looking at a number of different sources," she said. "It's which ones we can get the quickest."

She declined to say when that might be.

"I'm very skittish about giving out any sort of timetables," she said.

Pub Date: 6/23/96

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