Members of the Brentwood Village community, in the shadows of East Baltimore's prison complex, met with architects yesterday to begin redefining their neighborhood's future.
Residents, including faculty members of St. Frances Academy, at 501 E. Chase Street, drew up a wish list for one of the city's toughest areas in terms of crime and drugs.
Sister John Francis Schilling, principal of St. Frances Academy, said the community began to rally after helping persuade the Archdiocese of Baltimore to abandon plans to move the Our Daily Bread soup kitchen from Mount Vernon to Brentwood Village in 1999.
"It gave the community hope," she said.
The neighborhood of about 300 is home to two longtime institutions, St. Frances, which has about 280 students, and the prison complex, which has about 2,000 employees.
Bordered by the Fallsway, Greenmount Avenue, East Preston Street and East Madison Street, the area is one of the sections targeted by an extra-duty contingent of police called in last year.
Efforts to rejuvenate the neighborhood are being bolstered by a planned 35,000-square-foot, $4.2 million gymnasium and community center at the school. Work is expected to be completed in January next year.
Most of that space, including a computer lab and several multipurpose rooms, will be open to the community.
Matt D'Amico, a planner for the architecture firm Design Collective, said the rejuvenation effort requires that some buildings be razed and rebuilt.
"I think we've realized that a revitalization strategy based primarily on rehab is not going to work," he said.
Several members of the community were hesitant about tearing down homes to make way for new ones.
Almost all residents at the meeting said they had lived there for several decades and would be unwilling to move.
D'Amico said the project could address some of the city's need for affordable housing and that it might prompt prison workers to move to the area.
"This could be an opportunity where we provide new houses at a cost that is affordable as compared to Canton, Fells Point and those kinds of places," he said.
Architects are scheduled to meet with prison and church workers and business owners today.
Tomorrow, they are expected to present an illustrated master plan to the community.
A written report is expected two weeks later.
Community organizer Patrick Lee, a 1992 graduate of St. Frances Academy who grew up in Brentwood Village, said people need to understand that revitalization will take time.
"The more the city sees us doing things for ourselves, the more they'll be willing to help us," he said.