$1.5 million OK'd for city probation office

Officials, neighbors want it moved, protest renovation

September 09, 2004|By Andrew A. Green | Andrew A. Green,SUN STAFF

The Maryland Board of Public Works approved a $1.5 million contract yesterday to begin renovating Baltimore's main probation office, despite the protests of residents and city leaders.

Efforts to begin designing renovations on the building at 2100 Guilford Ave. have stalled repeatedly over the past six months as the city worked to find a different site for the office.

Neighbors have objected because the office - which receives more than 31,000 visits a month from people on parole and probation - is in a residential neighborhood and across the street from Dallas Nicholas Elementary School.

City officials suggested several other sites, but all have faced opposition from neighbors or failed to meet state requirements for size, public transportation access and parking availability.

"We have made a very good-faith effort to leave that building entirely," said Mark Vernarelli, spokesman for the Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services. "We were simply not able to find another location that met our criteria in the city of Baltimore."

The five-year project will cost more than $15 million but will not significantly expand the building, he said.

Boyd K. Rutherford, secretary of the state Department of General Services, said the building has deteriorated significantly. One worker was injured there because of the faulty electrical system, he said.

"It's badly in need of renovation and repair work and not just the patch work that has gone on for many years," Rutherford said.

Legislators who had been involved in the issue asked for another two-week extension, but Comptroller William Donald Schaefer and Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. rejected the request.

"It's been delayed and delayed and delayed," Schaefer said. "It's time now to move on."

Baltimore Housing Commissioner Paul T. Graziano said he is disappointed with the board's action. He said the Guilford Avenue site fails to meet many of the criteria the state laid out.

"It has no community support," he said. "It's immediately across the street from an elementary school and, frankly, I think it's going to be much more inefficient to renovate, as opposed to looking at a newly constructed facility."

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