The local community shared opinions on the future of the Pimlico Public Safety Training Facility Oct. 30 at Park Heights Jewish Community Center.
Previously, the city announced the training facility would move to the University of Baltimore as part of a five year lease.
The training facility has been a point of contention within the community. Some expressed concerns that a smaller police presence and a newly vacant building could result in a higher crime rate in the neighborhood.
The “intersection of Northern Parkway and Park Heights is in many ways the entrance, the gateway to Park Heights Avenue. It’s an important corner,” said Howard Libit, executive director of the Baltimore Jewish Council. “When people see cadets jogging through, see their presence, see them using the local retail, it’s reassuring.”
Attendees were told that the building would not be vacated entirely, as some 71 staff (40 police, 10 fire supply, and 21 EMS) would remain for some period of time. Lester Davis, the Chief of Communication and Government Relations, said, “I believe the police are planning to begin moving [to the new facility] at the end of the year.”
Mayor Bernard C. “Jack” Young, Police Commissioner Michael Harrison, Fire Chief Niles Ford, and Department of General Services Director Chichi Nyagah-Nash were present at the October meeting. The mayor stated that the current training facility is nearing the end of its usability, and that the move would allow the city to train more officers. The new location will have more technology, maintenance, and facilities according to City Solicitor Andre Davis.
Nyagah-Nash said that restoring the facility to its previous condition would cost, at a minimum, $30 million, and that the costs would be even higher to upgrade the building with modern accouterments, like air conditioning. A. Davis explained that at the University “with the better upkeep, we will actually be making net savings.”
After the mayor and his staff’s opening statements, the audience formed smaller breakout sessions to discuss options for the facility’s future. Groups were organized based on the color card a participant found on their chair upon entering the auditorium.
After the groups discussed the issues, each sent one member to the podium to present a recommendation to the rest of the room. Recommendations from the breakout groups included: selling the facility to private interests; using the facility as a homeless shelter for women and children or job training facility; and moving an existing police precinct to the facility.
Some felt the meeting was a success. L. Davis shared that, “The mayor thought it went well. We had a situation where the mayor was able to meet with several hundred different community members.”
“I think everyone who was there appreciated the mayor’s commitment of time as well as some of his top staff,” said Libit.
“I think Mayor Young is trying hard to hear the many voices of concern,” said Jack J. Pannell, Jr., resident of the Mt. Vernon neighborhood. “I was excited to see such diversity of people there, and to hear from people some really wonderful options for the building.”
Others took a less conciliatory tone. “I think that was a smoke and mirrors effort,” said one Jewish community member, who declined to be named. “All the mayor did was talk; he didn’t listen. He left before it finished. The breakout session was a last minute decision.”
Rabbi Avrohom Wolowik of the Greengate neighborhood of Pikesville, 46, and executive director of Cheder Chabad, concurred with the idea that security is important: “This is not rocket science. Buildings left vacant are open to crime and drugs. Across the street from Cheder Chabad there is a meth clinic, with all kinds of people coming during the day.
During the day, there was a police chase that started at the clinic, and they arrested the perpetrator right outside the school while children were at recess.”
Pannell concurred with this sentiment, stating that “The fear of a vacant building seems real, and needs to be taken seriously.”
Davis emphasized that 71 personnel would be remaining at the existing facility for at least some period of time, saying “the facility itself will not be vacant.”
When asked to comment on the personnel that would be remaining, Libit said that “the real question is ‘what’s the long term plan?’ We recognize there needs to be a new space for the police training academy, and that’s what’s going to happen at the University of Baltimore for the next few years … I think we heard the mayor say that too, and we look forward to working with the mayor to figuring something out soon.”
“So far, the best idea I’ve heard is to put a new northwest police district building there, plus a rec center for the community attached to it,” said Libit, when asked about what he would like to see done with the current training facility. “The current police district site is old, doesn’t have adequate space or parking. This place has plenty of space and parking, and there are a ton of recreation fields that would complement a youth rec center…”
Rabbi Wolowik said that: “What I understand is that the building is not rebuild-able. It would be cheaper to tear the building down and build a new one.”
He went on to suggest that the city should build “something that will benefit the entire community. Either moving a police station there, or some other profit or not-for-profit developments that could either be used for not-for-profit use, or increase jobs in the neighborhood. We’re talking about 12 to 18 acres; there’s a lot that could be done with that space. And if the city does not want to build a new police station there, then why hold on to the property? Sell the property and make some money for the city.”
Wolowik ended by suggesting that “a not-for-profit such as a school could use that property. It’s zoned for schools so a school could use it. It was a public school before it was a police academy.”