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Baltimore Co. plans community center in Essex Mostly vacant building would be purchased


As part of its growing effort to preserve Essex, the Baltimore County government is planning to buy a small commercial building for a novel public-private effort to help area families.

The county, contingent on County Council approval, will spend $550,000 for the 10,000-square-foot building at 101 Back River Neck Road called Riverwood Plaza and help a church day care center to locate there.

Current tenants would remain -- a pizza carryout and a nonprofit martial arts and fitness center. But the latter would be combined with the county-run Police Athletic League and recreation programs and no longer pay rent.

The county expects to use $200,000 in federal block grant money to renovate the 10-year-old building and equip a church-owned lot next door with a play area for the day care children. The purchase money would come from county Community Conservation bond funds and federal grants.

Maj. Kim Ward, commander of the Essex police precinct, helped conceive the idea nearly a year ago along with Mary Emerick, Eastside coordinator in the county's new Community Conservation Program. The Essex-Middle River area is the first target of the program, which seeks to strengthen older Beltway communities.

Major Ward said police wanted to make sure that Orlando Yarborough's Body Mechanics Fitness Center doesn't fail.

"Orlando is critical," she said, noting that the youth center has helped scores of poor children, many from from broken homes or drug ravaged areas.

In addition, the Rev. Isaiah D. Hill's First Baptist Church, across the street, was looking for money to build a new community center for its day care operation, which he said has more than 30 children on a waiting list. The church had wanted to build on its lot, next to the Riverwood building.

"It's a model of what can be done," Mr. Hill said.

The center will include a computer lab, homework club, board games and arts and crafts.

The proposal is to be presented to the council in November.

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