A planned partial demolition of Baltimore’s correctional complex off of I-83 will bring down an iconic castle-like administration building overlooking E. Madison Street, the turreted west wing of the Metropolitan Transit Center and the men’s and women’s detention centers, according to diagrams from state documents.
Another diagram shows the state’s “transition site” plan for the complex. Temporary modular buildings will be installed to house a commissary and facilities for education, health services and maintenance, and officials plan to add a new security fence along the northern edge of the complex and refurbish a recreation yard outside of what will remainof the Metropolitan Transit Center.
The plans, published in a state demolition plan for the complex in 2015, “are still in place,” said state Department of General Services spokesman Nick Cavey in an email Friday. Thirty-nine structures in total face demolition.
“These are preliminary planning documents and subject to change during the design process,” Cavey noted.
One of the buildings, known as the Warden’s House, was built in the mid-19th century and was used to hold runaway slaves before and during the Civil War, according to the nonprofit Baltimore Heritage. The Metropolitan Transit Center is even older, having opened in 1812. The Warden’s House is a designated city landmark but isn’t protected from demolition by state agencies, according to the nonprofit.
Johns Hopkins, executive director of Baltimore Heritage, said in an email that the Warden’s House is “one of the few places left in Baltimore with a direct connection to our history of slavery.” Baltimore Heritage has opposed tearing down the Warden’s House, the Metropolitan Transit Center and another administrative building since demolition plans first surfaced. (The other administration building, the visitor’s center for the Metropolitan Center, isn’t slated for demolition, according to the above diagram.)
“We do not know what the Department of Corrections is planning for the site, but we believe all three buildings should be retained as part of whatever new development may happen,” Hopkins said.
The design process for the demolition is officially underway after the state’s three-member Board of Public Works on Wednesday morning agreed to pay $2.43 million to two local architecture firms to design a plan to demolish 39 buildings within the Baltimore City Correctional Complex.
ATI, based in Columbia, and Penza Bailey Architects, based in Baltimore, now have the state’s go-ahead to plan the demolition of 16 major structures and 23 minor ones housed within the domineering prison complex situated off of I-83, according to a BPW agenda. Crews would also remove “numerous underground utilities” and restructure security enclosures, the agenda said.
Main buildings targeted for demolition are the Baltimore City Detention Center, ceremoniously shuttered by Gov. Larry Hogan in 2015, and the Women’s Detention Center next door, according to Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services spokesman Gerard Shields. “Some ancillary structures, such as a small power plant, will be brought down,” he added.
The demolition itself will cost far more – around $28 million, Shields said – and require funding approval from the Maryland General Assembly. If approved, the teardown would take about 18 months, according to Shields.
The fate of the correctional complex has remained up in the air since it was shut down. At a 2016 panel discussion dubbed “Baltimore’s Future Growth & Development,” architects, public officials, developers and preservationists touted its potential for economic redevelopment that could serve nearby Mount Vernon, East Baltimore neighborhoods and downtown.
The complex also made it into the Old Goucher Community Association’s pitch last year for Amazon to build its second North American headquarters in Baltimore. The neighborhood recommended the retail giant consider redeveloping the penitentiary complex along with State Center, another state-owned property with an uncertain fate.
Hogan in early 2016 proposed spending $480 million to reconstruct the site as a pretrial complex, but Democratic state lawmakers pushed the governor to drop the plan within a month. The Sun reported Hogan’s proposal would have taken way funding for five college projects, two of them at Coppin State and Morgan State universities.
And here we are, now in 2018.
“The vision for the site is still up in the air,” Shields said. “Not sure what the property will be used for at this point.”
The length of the demolition-design contract is three years. The Board of Public Works, composed of Hogan, Comptroller Peter Franchot and Treasurer Nancy Kopp, approved the contract without discussion.
This post was updated Friday afternoon with information on demolition and transition plans for the correctional complex.