With an excavator revved up and ready to tear into the brick walls of the run-down Kingsley Park apartment complex, Felicia Bookman alternately teared up, shouted and jumped up and down.
She and her two teenage sons had lived in an apartment in the World War II-era complex in Middle River for 18 months - time she called "pure hell." Now, more than three months after moving out, she was more than ready to watch the demolition of buildings that had long ago deteriorated into a rodent- and insect-infested haven for drug dealing and violence.
"Just do it, please," she shouted to County Executive James T. Smith Jr. as he maneuvered the machinery to take the first ceremonial swipes at the building. "Hit it, Jim. ... Don't be scared."
The county bought the 18-acre site from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development for $10 in September in a deal that also required a county payment of $2.2 million to the property's last owners, Landex Corp.
Yesterday, with all but 10 of the complex's approximately 300 families relocated with county assistance to other homes, Baltimore County officials were ready to begin tearing down the buildings to make way for a new development - one that county officials said will be designed through an intensive community input process.
The remaining families are expected to move out by the middle of next week, said Mary L. Harvey, the director of the county's Office of Community Conservation.
Sometime in May or shortly after, county officials will hold a series of planning meetings involving government employees, community members and developers to determine what will be built, Smith and Harvey said.
The whole package - land and development plan - will then be offered for public sale, she said. The plan is expected to include housing for the elderly and affordable and market-rate units, Harvey said.
Smith said the county is not looking to sell at top dollar to a builder planning luxury homes but instead wants housing on the site that police officers, teachers and others can easily afford.
"Our objective is to have work-force housing," he said.
For Helen Schuhart, 81, yesterday's demolition was bittersweet. She spent 31 years in the complex and lived there when it was "absolutely beautiful" and after it had disintegrated into a drug haven.
"As soon as the drugs started coming in here, that was the end of it," said Schuhart, who moved a few miles away to the Windsor House Apartments in 2003.
"It's very nostalgic for me," she said. "When I walked up here, I was already teary-eyed."