Disturbed by the Board of Education's continued concerns about moving school offices into a former whiskey distillery building, County Commissioner Jeff Griffith said Tuesday he is tempted to cancel the plan.
"I'm ready to tell the board, 'Stay where you are. Let some other sucker build you a building," said Griffith after listening to budget director Steven D. Powell's review of the latest correspondence with the school board.
Board President T. Edward Lippy wrote the commissioners, saying the board has "serious concerns about the adequacy and location of this facility."
Griffith said he's "ready to wash my hands of this. We've looked at the alternatives."
Powell, who is charged with recommending solutions to the county's office space shortage, expressed dismay at a board letter that raised concerns he believes have been or are being addressed.
"I'm confused and discouraged by the board," Powell said. "They were contacted about the purchase and gave their consent."
Even though the board consented to the purchase, members have criticized the commissioners for showing "shortsighted vision."
In a letter dated Sept. 20, board members voiced concerns about the building's location, its structural soundness and the availability of parking. They said initial estimates for interior renovation were low and questioned whether the project would be cost-effective.
Superintendent R. Edward Shilling said that after a Sept. 12 visit to the building -- currently half-leased by the County Department of Social Services -- the board has attempted to highlight some "serious" problems, including inadequate heating, air-conditioning and ventilation systems.
"These are serious problems, and they have to be addressed," Shilling said.
The board also has asked for a feasibility study to determine whether the costs are justified for a temporary move.
The county purchased three former whiskey distillery buildings in downtown Westminster for $2.2 million in August as part of a plan to expand the government office complex. One of the Sherwood Square buildings -- the 67,000-square-foot former warehouse known as the Barrel House -- is intended to serve as the headquarters for the public schools, now housed in a wing of the Courthouse Annex.
The relocation would relieve severe overcrowding for education, government and judicial system workers for up to 10 years and allow the county government to postpone plans for a new office building, estimated at $11 million in 1988, Carroll officials said.
The Sherwood purchase, intended as a less costly, intermediary solution, would leave money in county coffers for more pressing projects, such as school and road construction, they said.
Board member Carolyn L. Scott said "the structural question" was a paramount concern. She said board members also want to be reassured that the relocation will be only temporary. "We don't have to take the building," Scott said. "We can stay where we are."
Powell plans to write a response to the letter, to be reviewed by the commissioners, asking if education officials are interested in proceeding with the project. If they are, county officials are willing to work with them to convert the building into offices, he said. Otherwise, the county could find other uses for the facility, he said.
"We need to know if we are moving ahead with the project or not," he said.
Both Shilling and Scott, though, said they believed the issues could be resolved.
"We are simply saying we need time to look at these concerns closely enough and to make sure whatever is done, adequately addresses problems," Shilling said.
Griffith suggested that if school officials are not satisfied, they could submit to the commissioners their own survey of alternative sites and a cost analysis for constructing a new headquarters.
Powell said some of the board's concerns have been studied and that the commissioners would not have purchased the building if it had not been structurally sound.
Powell said the board's estimate of renovation costs has increased from $1.7 million to $2.7 million, but it still would be cheaper than renting space for 10 years.
Copyright The Baltimore Sun 1990