New uses considered as old jail is torn down

Swimming pool, rec center, park among options

June 24, 2006|By JOSH MITCHELL | JOSH MITCHELL,SUN REPORTER

As a crew began razing a half-century-old jail in Towson yesterday, county government officials said they are eyeing the property for a community swimming pool, recreation center or park.

They said a 19th-century stone building on the land, once the warden's cottage, will be spared and perhaps turned into a war veterans memorial or museum.

One option that's not on the table: selling the 2 acres at Bosley Avenue and Towsontown Boulevard.

"We don't want it ... sold to a private developer," said County Councilman Vincent J. Gardina, a Towson-Perry Hall Democrat. "It will definitely be some kind of a public-use facility."

Several proposals will be presented to surrounding communities at the end of the summer or early fall, said Robert J. Barrett, the county's director of recreation and parks. He said the department will make a decision after receiving residents' input.

A crew will spend the next several months demolishing the low-slung brick building and adjacent prefab trailer - called the Courthouse Court Facility - that for years housed the women's detention center. Inmates from the 374-bed jail were transferred in May to the county's new $77 million detention center several blocks away, at Bosley Avenue and Kenilworth Drive.

The destruction of the old jail marks the end of an era for the county's Department of Corrections. The stone structure, built in 1854, was the county's first jail, and the brick building behind it was the second, built in 1955.

Both buildings lack air conditioning.

"As time went on, what Baltimore County needed out of a correctional facility changed," County Executive James T. Smith Jr. said at a ceremony in front of the warden's cottage yesterday. "It was past time to give our Department of Corrections a facility built in this century."

Deborah Richardson, deputy director of the corrections department, said conditions inside the jail were so hot that administrators took the rare step of allowing officers to eschew dress codes and wear golf shirts and shorts.

Barrett said the county is spending $1 million to demolish the brick building and trailer. The stone building will be preserved because it has been designated as a historic site.

Of the three options for the land discussed at a public hearing in the fall, a swimming pool is more likely than a recreation center, Barrett said.

"This site is very difficult for development of a rec center because there's very limited parking," Barrett said.

A more likely option: surrounding communities would lease the land and run a pool whose members would pay fees for private management.

Even in that arrangement, the county would ensure some public uses, such as a swimming program for senior citizens, Barrett said.

The county would not run the pool, he said.

"We're not in the pool business," Barrett said. "More than likely, we'd have someone like the Y or someone with more experience in pool operations run it. There's a lot of liability with pools, a lot of maintenance."

Russ Kuehn, who lives in the Southland Hills community directly behind the property, said he supports the idea of a pool.

"Looking around at neighborhoods in the area, there are pools and they're kind of like central to different communities," Kuehn said. "You hang out there with your friends in the summer. Kids go there and learn how to swim, have fun. It kind of unites a community together."

josh.mitchell@baltsun.com

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