Lexington Terrace will fall today Controlled explosions will destroy city's high-rise project

July 27, 1996|By Marilyn McCraven | Marilyn McCraven,SUN STAFF

Some 37 years ago, the first five families to move into the Lexington Terrace housing project were greeted with cheers and bouquets.

Today at 10 a.m. there will be cheers as the project's five high-rise buildings, just west of downtown, are demolished in about 20 seconds to make room for a new development, mostly of traditional Baltimore rowhouses.

"Three years ago, when I took this job, I was asked to get rid of the worst housing problem in Baltimore City," said City Housing Commissioner Daniel P. Henson III. "This is part of the process."

Razing the decrepit Lexington Terrace, which once housed 677 families, is the latest step in the city's plans to eliminate its four outdated and dangerous high-rise developments in favor of rowhouse communities with less dense populations and a greater mix of incomes. The overhaul is expected to cost upward of $300 million.

Last August, the Lafayette Courts housing project's six high-rises just east of downtown were leveled. Groundbreaking for replacement housing there is at 8 a.m. today, with U.S. Housing Secretary Henry G. Cisneros present.

Then Cisneros and city officials are to travel about 20 blocks west to the intersection of Franklin and Schroeder streets for demolition ceremonies, including viewing a small parade of mostly local school children celebrating the rise of a new community at the Lexington Terrace site.

Today's preparations for the main event start about 5: 30 a.m. with city workers and private contractors sweeping the desolate towers for vagrants or animals that might have gotten into the buildings overnight.

Then, after police have secured the boundaries around a 72-square-block area and evacuated about 10 units of the nearby Poe Homes housing project, some 700 pounds of dynamite will be placed in 2,300 holes drilled into support columns of the towers.

Earlier, workers stripped the buildings of all recyclable materials, asbestos and wiring.

The 15-acre Lexington Terrace site is bounded by Martin Luther King Boulevard on the east, Fremont Avenue on the west, Mulberry Street on the north and West Fayette Street on the south.

At the official viewing stand at Franklin and Schroeder streets, several dignitaries, including Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke, Cisneros and Henson, will lead the 10-minute countdown and make a ceremonial "push of the button," as officials with Controlled Demolition Inc. of Baltimore County hit the real ignition switch at the site, said John Elder, a city engineer and project manager of the demolition.

Controlled Demolition, internationally known for using relatively small amounts of strategically placed explosives to make buildings collapse into themselves, has been on the site for weeks preparing for today.

P&J Contracting and Phipps Contracting, both local minority-owned companies, already have reduced 23 low-rise buildings on the site to rubble, Elder said.

The high-rises are to fall sequentially from south to north in about 20 seconds, leaving five large piles of rubble and a thin layer of brown dust covering a five-square-block area, Elder said.

Residents have been involved in every step of the design process, said Ted Rouse, a partner in Struever Brothers Eccles & Rouse and project leader of the joint-venture team developing the replacement community.

While details won't be final until fall, here are the main features of the development to replace Lexington Terrace:

303 brick and vinyl siding rowhouses with central air conditioning and washer/dryer hook-ups. Some 100 to be sold to first-time home buyers with a maximum yearly income of $34,000 for a family of four.

A four-story business center with a retail complex on the first floor and a job-training center.

A six-story cooperative senior citizen building where residents are part-owners.

A combination recreation and community service center, near lighted, fenced-in basketball courts and common green space.

The rowhouses will be larger than typical public housing units, with 1,100 feet of space instead of 700 feet, and each will be about 16 to 18 feet wide, not the usual 14 feet, Rouse said.

The development "is in keeping with the philosophy of the new urbanism," said John Torti, of CHK Architects and Planners of Silver Spring, in that houses face on streets, not away like traditional public housing projects, and public areas have prominent places.

"What they're talking about putting in place of the high-rises is what was there before -- small rowhouses," said Fred Shoken, past president of Baltimore Heritage, a preservation group.

Pub Date: 7/27/96

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