Detention center for juveniles won't open till early 2003

Construction delays put $45 million city facility 18 months off schedule

August 29, 2002|By Howard Libit | Howard Libit,SUN STAFF

Maryland's new juvenile justice detention center is almost 18 months overdue because of complications with construction and is not expected to begin accepting youth offenders until early next year, state officials said this week.

The delays in the downtown Baltimore center have forced officials to continue holding juveniles in the antiquated Cheltenham Youth Facility in Prince George's County. The long-awaited move of the city's juvenile justice courts to the new center also has been put on hold.

The $45 million Baltimore City Juvenile Justice Center initially was scheduled to be completed in May of last year, but construction has been delayed because of site complications and the complexity of the building, according to the Department of General Services.

"It's a big facility, and it has a lot of complicated parts and pieces," said Dave Humphrey, a spokesman for the department, which is overseeing construction. "This is the largest public project in Baltimore City in many years."

The project has exceeded its original $41 million cost estimates by about $4 million, increases that have been approved by the General Assembly and Board of Public Works.

The center is about 98 percent complete and is expected to be turned over to the Department of Juvenile Justice in mid- to late November, Humphrey said.

Juvenile Justice Secretary Bishop L. Robinson has testified to state lawmakers that officials will need 30 to 60 days to test various systems.

That means the center wouldn't open until January at the earliest. Juvenile justice officials expect to open the center in phases.

Within three months of the center's becoming "fully operational," demolition of portions of Cheltenham would begin, leaving a 48-bed unit for offenders who live in Southern Maryland and Prince George's, said juvenile justice spokesman Lee Towers.

Near the JFX

The new center is being built on a 5-acre site that used to include a Hillen Tire outlet. It is bounded by North Gay, Hillen, Front and Exeter streets. It is just east of the Jones Falls Expressway and is a huge structure easily visible to downtown commuters.

When completed, the 250,000-square-foot complex will include three detention pods with enough space for 144 beds for juvenile defenders, a gymnasium, classrooms, three Circuit Court rooms, 10 hearing rooms and office space for lawyers and juvenile-related agencies, Towers said.

The city's Juvenile Court facilities - now in Clarence M. Mitchell Jr. Courthouse - will be moved to the center, enabling youth offenders to go easily from detention housing to courtrooms. They now must be taken from Cheltenham to the city for court appearances, more than an hour's drive.

When ground was broken for the project in July 1999, officials predicted that it would be completed in the spring of last year and begin admitting juvenile offenders by the end of that summer.

Problems began early

The project ran into complications almost from the beginning, particularly when contractors began digging for the foundation and unexpectedly found pipes and abandoned fuel storage tanks, Humphrey said.

More recently, the project has included several late equipment changes.

Last month, juvenile justice officials sought a $682,000 change in security cameras for the complex. The change was approved by the Board of Public Works.

Next week, the agency is set to seek board approval of a contract to purchase furniture for the center. Towers said juvenile justice officials waited to place some orders until it became clear that the center was nearing completion.

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