Activity center site a concern Theater: Hillendale residents don't want their community center housed in an old movie theater. They want it built on school grounds in the heart of the area.

March 12, 1997|By Suzanne Loudermilk | Suzanne Loudermilk,SUN STAFF

Instead of getting a newly built community center, residents of the Hillendale area learned this week that the proposed project might be located in a closed movie theater, raising concerns in a neighborhood working to stem crime and rental housing.

At a meeting Monday, many said they would prefer the center be built on school grounds in the midst of the community, where youth activities are held at Halstead Academy, rather than on the edge of the area in a commercial zone.

But Baltimore County officials say a new structure's cost, which could exceed $2.2 million, is more than expected. Refurbishing Hillendale Theater on Taylor Avenue near Loch Raven Boulevard would be more affordable, Robert J. Barrett, special assistant to County Executive C. A. Dutch Ruppersberger, said yesterday.

Preliminary estimates indicate it would cost about $800,000 to purchase and convert the theater, he said. Financing the project hinges on a bond bill in the state legislature that would allocate $600,000 in state funds with matching money from the county.

A hearing on the House bill is scheduled for 1 p.m. tomorrow.

"At this point, we're still doing a job in Annapolis to get the funding," Barrett said.

Community members worry that the former theater would not be the best location for the center, which mostly would provide a larger area for Police Athletic League (PAL) activities housed in a small gym at Halstead.

"The PAL center should be located in the hub of the community, not on the perimeter," said Teresa Northrup of the Community Counseling and Resource Center (CCRC) in Cockeysville, which works with the PAL center.

Every day, about 120 young people ages 6 to 17 participate in sports, arts and crafts, and a homework club at the PAL center, organizers say. Last year, about 21,000 children visited the after-school, drop-in program.

Residents are concerned that young children would have difficulty walking the mile to the theater from the school and that dozens of unsupervised children would wander through the neighborhood. "Based on the statistics, PAL is very vital to the Hillendale area," Northrup said.

Towson Republican Councilman Douglas B. Riley agrees but stressed that no decision has been made on the location.

"I think it's best next to the school," he said, adding that he also understands the financial realities. "Once [the legislature] appropriates funds for a PAL center next to a school in a community conservation area, they would establish a precedent to build centers next to all schools."

The management company handling the theater says that although it has been negotiating with the county, other offers on the building have been made, including bids from a theater chain and a church. County officials have agreed to meet with community representatives at 3 p.m. March 19 in Ruppersberger's office to discuss the issue.

Pub Date: 3/12/97

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