Group awarded old fire station

Partnership that includes tenants of Perkins Homes wants community center

Building is at 316 S. Caroline St.

May 28, 2002|By M. Dion Thompson | M. Dion Thompson,SUN STAFF

Baltimore housing officials have awarded an abandoned fire station at 316 S. Caroline St. to a partnership that includes the tenants of the 688-unit Clarence Perkins Homes, who hope to turn the firehouse into a community center.

Bertha McCormick, tenant council president, said the partners are ready to move forward with their plans to turn the old building into a thriving community meeting place.

Though residents in the public housing complex felt they had a good plan, they didn't believe they would get the vacant fire station. After all, they did not have the highest bid, or the political muscle they felt was needed when dealing with city government. But they did have a plan and a need.

"It's not about the money," said John Wesley, spokesman for the Housing Authority of Baltimore City. "They were awarded former Engine Company 34 for the purpose of establishing a safe port."

Hewlett-Packard is considering putting a computer center in the building. The Living Classrooms Foundation and City College also have expressed interest in bringing programs to the Perkins community.

Developing plans

Final plans for the center are being developed, and no date has been set for when programs will begin.

"We're looking at so many different avenues," said McCormick, whose tenant council formed a partnership with the East Harbor Village Center. "I'm really expecting the president of the United States to come out of Perkins. I'm expecting a lot of good things. We have a lot of help, and I believe the kids are excited."

The partnership will be responsible for cleaning up the site, including removing any contamination or hazardous materials that might have been left, said Wesley.

The spokesman stressed that the city would not be providing funds for those tasks.

"They will have to go out and find the funding," he said.

Built in 1909 for $24,951, the two-story fire station once housed the horse-drawn wagons of Engine Company 34. It has been vacant for at least 12 years.

Earlier attempts at renovating the building failed, and city officials were wary of turning the firehouse over to anyone who did not have a concrete plan.

Neighborhood needs

Although private citizens also bid on the project, Housing Commissioner Paul T. Graziano favored the partnership because of the needs in the East Baltimore neighborhood, Wesley said.

"It signals a commitment by this commissioner and the mayor to spark new life in the remaining public housing communities," he said.

This month, tenants and city officials held a groundbreaking for a neighborhood park that will be developed through a $100,000 grant secured by the tenant council.

Several trees also were planted on the grounds of the low-rise public housing complex between Little Italy and Fells Point.

The dedication and news about the firehouse are bringing a new sense of pride to the area, said McCormick. The tenants have a name for the fire station. They want to call it "The Powerhouse."

"The people are changing because they see something that is becoming a reality," said McCormick. "I just envision a lot of activity."

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