Arlington has a new tenant in its small business district and local residents of the neighborhood appear to have mixed feelings about it.
The members of the Arlington Civic Council are relieved that after several years, the one-story brick structure that encompasses a large section of the 2300 block of Arlington Avenue is no longer vacant.
However, there is a certain degree of anxiety regarding the type of business being conducted in this building which will serve as a counseling/reporting center for people with criminal backgrounds.
The building was erected less than 10 years ago and was used as a dialysis center before that business moved to another Arlington Avenue location in Mount Oliver Borough less than a year after it opened.
Starting on Monday, Feb. 23, the Allegheny County Adult Probation Day Reporting Center began operations at 2320 Arlington Avenue where the dialysis center once existed. The mission of the reporting center is to provide effective community-based alternatives to incarceration, improving public safety, partnering with community and law enforcement resources and to promote positive behavioral changes from offenders, according to a media release.
The building is being leased by Allegheny County through Dialysis Clinic, Inc., the owner of the property.
"We're here to be your neighbor and we will immediately respond to any issues," said James Rieland, director of the county Adult Probation Department.
Mr. Rieland met with Arlington residents at the quarterly Arlington Civic Council meeting on March 2 to discuss the opening of the facility. Also attending the meeting was Common Pleas Judge Donna Jo McDaniel. Ms. McDaniel is the Common Pleas President Judge. The County Court of Common Pleas oversees and administers the probation program.
Other county officials attending the meeting included the two people responsible for running the Arlington facility: Frank J. Scherer, the manager; and Nicole Ballard, the supervisor. It was pointed out at the meeting that Mr. Scherer and Ms. Ballard, both grew up in the hilltop area. In fact, Mr. Scherer is an Arlington native.
"My parents still live on Spring Street," Mr. Scherer said. "[Ms. Ballard] and I have a special interest in the community. If anyone on probation is causing havoc, I want to know and I will do something about it immediately. I will personally follow-up on any issues. Give us a chance. We'll show you guys that we'll do some things that will be for the betterment of the community. We're not bringing criminals into the neighborhood. The people who we are helping already live here."
The opening of the adult probation center is the first of its type in Allegheny County. Plans are underway for several other county-run facilities similar to this one. The Arlington probation center will be open from noon until 8 p.m. Monday through Saturday. Special emphasis was placed on the fact that this is not a facility for sex offenders.
Many of those who report there are for alcohol- and drug-related problems. Only residents of the 15210, 15203 and 15211 zip codes will be using the services of the center along with the residents of nearby Brookline and Beechview. Residents from other parts of the city, as well as those from the suburbs, will not be assigned to this facility.
The county officials also emphasized that the center will not house beds and there are no plans to make this an overnight facility. The Day Reporting Center will provide the following type of services: adult education geared toward those who need to earn their G.E.D., anger management classes, domestic violence counseling, drug-testing, life-skills counseling, literacy programs, vocational training and job-readiness along with drug/alcohol assessment/education.
Mr. Rieland also noted that the City of Pittsburgh Police will also use the facility for special projects and a police presence will be provided around the building and the immediate neighborhood area on a regular basis.
District 3 councilman Bruce Kraus and Zone 3 Police Commander Catherine McNeilly also attended the meeting and voiced their support of the center and pledged to make it a viable and successful part of the Arlington community which should benefit the entire hilltop community.
There are plans to have designated parking spaces for the Zone 3 police on Arlington Avenue next to the reporting facility. There are also plans to mount four surveillance cameras (two in the front and two in back) on the building. Those reporting to the facility will enter from the back of the building where there is more than adequate parking. They will not have to set foot on Arlington Avenue when arriving or leaving the facility.
There are also ideas being discussed regarding the facility taking an active role in community projects such as periodic cleanup programs. If offenders are provided for cleaning up a vacant lot or an entire neighborhood, there will be supervision provided while they perform any tasks.
Members of the Arlington board expressed confidence, more than skepticism, that the day probation center will be a plus for their neighborhood. However, several said they did not appreciate the fact that they were kept in the dark about the facility opening in such a relatively short period of time.
No one in Arlington was really given much advance notice about the county moving into the facility.
"It was like they shoved it with two feet down our throat," one resident said.
Ms. McDaniel apologized to the board and the residents at the meeting about the unfortunate set of circumstances that led to the facility opening with such short notice. She explained that the county Court of Common Pleas had been considering this as an option for several years, but logistical and administrative details had to be worked out before the program could get off the ground. She said she expects the Adult Probation Day Reporting Center to have a productive relationship with the Arlington Civic Council as well as other community-based organizations in the area.