A long-planned expansion of Baltimore's main probation and parole office, which community groups sued two years ago to stop, is set to begin next month.
Maryland's Board of Public Works approved yesterday a $4.5 million construction contract that allows the $20 million project to begin at the 2100 Guilford Ave. facility.
"It's time," said Dave Humphrey, spokesman for the state general services department. "It's a 76-year-old building, and it's been 30 years since it has had any major improvements."
Residents complained that the probation office, which handles more than 30,000 visits a month, attracts criminals.
Two years ago, nine community groups and seven residents sued the state, hoping to stop the work and convince officials to move the facility to a less residential part of town.
The community coalition lost the suit, but then the state agreed to meet with neighbors to try to work out their concerns.
The Rev. G. Stanley Steele, an official with Diakon Lutheran Social Ministries who opposed the expansion, said the coalition is disappointed that it was unable to convince the state to move the facility.
However, he added, the group is pleased that the state agreed to other suggestions - such as moving some of the Guilford Avenue operations to other offices and providing an indoor waiting area.
"People are as comfortable with it as they are going to be, considering people don't want them there," Steele said. "They fought the good fight."
During the first phase, workers will demolish an annex and garage to make way for a 16,450-square- foot addition.
Employees will work in the addition during the second phase, which involves $16.3 million in renovations on the existing building.
The work, prompted partly because the building is not handicapped-accessible and doesn't meet city code, is expected to take three years.
The state chose Baltimore's Tech Contracting Co. for the construction. Architectural firm Murphy & Dittenhafer handled the design.