Governor plans two new prisons in capital budget

January 22, 1991|By Peter Jensen | Peter Jensen,Annapolis Bureau of The Sun

ANNAPOLIS -- With state prisons bulging at the seams with inmates, the Schaefer administration included in its capital budget yesterday two new correctional facilities with a combined capacity of at least 2,900 beds.

The new prisons were among dozens of potential construction projects outlined in Gov. William Donald Schaefer's proposed $815.5 million capital budget unveiled yesterday by the administration's senior budget officers.

One of the biggest single expenses in the fiscal 1992 capital budget is an $88 million plan to buy office buildings for state

agencies that now lease office space in Baltimore. The proposal would save state government more than $500 million in lease payments over the next 40 years, officials estimated.

The governor's proposed construction budget also would direct $2 million toward the expansion of the Baltimore Convention Center, $1.8 million to help plan the Christopher Columbus Center of Marine Research and Exploration at the Inner Harbor and $2 million to launch a state bioprocessing facility that would offer lab space and consultants to aid private research.

The Schaefer administration wants to spend $8.5 million to build a 400-bed minimum-security prison and $3 million to design and $500,000 to buy land (in addition to the $500,000 set aside in the current budget) for a 2,500-bed minimum-and medium-security prison, said Arthur H. Hilsenrad, deputy secretary of the state Department of Budget and Fiscal Planning.

The 2,500-bed prison, which is expected to be built in the mid-1990s, "probably" would be in Allegany County, although an exact location has not been determined, Mr. Hilsenrad said.

A site near, or possibly adjacent to, Eastern Correctional Institution in Somerset County is under review as a "possible" location for the 400-bed facility, said state police Sgt. Gregory M. Shipley, a Correction Division spokesman.

Using the Eastern Shore site could "minimize cost of construction," Mr. Shipley said. Inmate labor may be used to reduce construction costs as well, he said.

At a news conference yesterday, Governor Schaefer said the state "needs another prison, maybe two," and noted that he and Bishop L. Robinson, secretary of public safety and correctional services, met Saturday with government officials and business leaders in Allegany County to discuss the proposal.

Western Maryland legislators have strongly supported federal and state plans to build prisons in the economically depressed region. The major sticking point for a possible Allegany prison is finding a site that does not infringe on the county's population centers, said Sen. Donald F. Munson, R-Washington County.

"Most of the community believes a prison is a good economic development tool," said Senator Munson, who attended the hour-long meeting Saturday in Cumberland.

County officials are preparing a list of possible prison sites to be submitted to Mr. Robinson this week, said Delegate Casper R. Taylor Jr., D-Allegany County.

The 2,500-bed facility was initially proposed several years ago as part of a long-term prison construction plan. The state, which is acting under a federal court order to relieve crowding, has about 17,350 inmates in a prison system with a capacity for 12,000.

Officials said the proposal to buy Baltimore-area office space will involve state agencies housed in 11 buildings, including the Baltimore District Court building on North Avenue, the lottery agency's headquarters in Reisterstown Plaza and the state attorney general's offices at 200 St. Paul Place.

The state would negotiate to buy many of the buildings but in some cases may seek to buy other sites if better deals can be found, officials said. The move would not affect some state agencies in the city, such as the Department of Economic and Employment Development or the Department of the Environment.

The Schaefer administration had expressed interest in building a $200 million state office complex in Baltimore to combine the various agencies but decided against it because of the cost and the prospect of worsening an already-glutted market for office space in the city.

Nevertheless, the city is expected to lose about $1 million a year in property tax revenues when the state buys the various buildings and takes them off the city's tax rolls, officials said.

About one-quarter of the proposed capital budget is devoted to education, with $127.3 million for public colleges and universities, $53 million for local elementary and secondary schools, $8.4 million for community colleges and $8.4 million for private colleges and universities.

The budget, which will go to the General Assembly for review, is 4.6 percent smaller than last year's, partly because the administration is diverting less money from the state's general fund to support construction projects.

Capital budget proposals

Following are some of the proposals included in the Schaefer administration's $815.5 million capital budget:

* $88 million to buy Baltimore property for state operations that now lease space.

* $8.5 million to build a new 400-bed minimum-security prison to relieve inmate overcrowding, possibly in Somerset County.

* $3.5 million to design and acquire land for a 2,500-bed minimum- and medium-security prison, probably in Allegany County.

* $1.5 million for a 48-bed secure detention unit at the Charles Hickey Jr. School in Baltimore County.

* $6.9 million to begin construction of a public safety training center near Sykesville.

* $2 million to expand the Baltimore Convention Center.

* $1.8 million to help plan the Christopher Columbus Center of Marine Research and Exploration in the Baltimore Inner Harbor.

* $4.3 million to improve Sandy Point State Park east of Annapolis.

* $3.45 million to buy Bloomsbury Square, a public housing project in Annapolis.

* $1.929 million for an emergency computer center that would be available to all state agencies.

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