Baltimore County police officers working at the new, $6.8 million Woodlawn police station aren't sure why a huge stone wall cuts through the building, or why a black steel gate is suspended in that wall.
Dramatic architectural flourishes? The police say they don't much care.
That's because, compared with the 3,000-square-foot, 36-year-old station being replaced in the western county, the new 26,000-square-foot place is a police officer's dream come true.
Desk officer Curtis G. Morsberger this week presided over the lobby of the new station, complete with a skylight and black slate tiles, at Woodlawn Drive and Windsor Mill Road.
Ensconced behind bulletproof glass, with an electronic panel beside him that can control every door in the building, ceiling-mounted security cameras and a color television set to boot, Morsberger joked that the new lobby is probably as big as the old station house.
Back at the old station house farther northwest on Windsor Mill Road, Officer Gerald W. D'Angelo staffed an open, wildly cluttered desk backed by a couple of battered file cabinets that looked as if they were used for props on the old "Barney Miller" television show.
This changing of the guardhouse has a familiar ring to county police spokesman E. Jay Miller, who as a News-American reporter in 1955 wrote that the then-new Woodlawn station was "ultra-modern, with a gleamingly attractive glass front." The station housed 21 officers then, compared with 106 patrol officers, and traffic and community relations people now.
The new station officially is to come into use April 18, when the old station is turned into headquarters for the Western Traffic division. However, some officers, including the Citizens Oriented Police Enforcement, have been working from the new station for weeks.
Baltimore County commissioned the building's construction by a private contractor, Atlantic Builders Group, and will pay $1.35 million a year to lease it for five years. Then the building will revert to county ownership. By "privatizing" the project, the county avoided having to pay the full $5.6 million cost up front. However, leasing will cost an extra $1.2 million in interest.
The Towson precinct station, built in 1927, remains the county's oldest and most outmoded. However, that situation should change in about a year, after police headquarters finishes its move to the new county public safety building in the 700 block of E. Joppa Road and the current headquarters on Kenilworth Drive is renovated as the Towson precinct.
The changes can't come too soon for the officers who work at these facilities.
At Woodlawn, prisoners routinely were chained to wall rings or even filing cabinets on busy weekends when the four cells filled up. Recovered stolen bicycles got stacked outside the back door.
The new station has a closed garage for unloading prisoners; separate holding cells for new arrivals as well as for juveniles, women and men; showers; line-up and interrogation rooms; and one cell monitored by overhead cameras for prisoners who threaten to commit suicide.
A separate property room has steel hooks installed high on the walls to hold stolen bicycles recovered by the patrol officers.
The crime prevention staff, now housed in a truck in back of the squat, rundown old station, will have their own carpeted offices in the new facility.
The new Woodlawn station also has a large, nicely appointed conference room, where precinct Capt. Ronald B. Schwartz's staff can conduct community meetings and briefings; a large room that can serve as a western county emergency control center; a suite of offices for police Maj. Lawrence T. Schissler and his staff; a small cafeteria; a weight training room; a chaplain's office; and even a small library where officers can go for quiet reflection.
By comparison, Schwartz's assistant, Lt. John T. Gaither Jr., worked from a desk in a converted closet in the old station.
The Woodlawn facility is designed basically to match the White Marsh precinct, opened in 1987, with an outer public area and a secured inner core, said Capt. John Krach of the department's planning and facilities section.
Neither Schwartz, Gaither, Morsberger nor Krach could explain why the stone wall and the manually operated, medieval-looking steel gate were designed into the building. Seemingly few instances would require the officers to lower the ponderous barred barrier.
Glenn Birx, a partner in the Baltimore architectural firm of Ayers Saint Gross, which designed the station, said the stone wall was "symbolic of a controlled environment that a police station is."
The parking lot had to be encircled by a fence anyway under the specifications, Birx said, so he designed the parking lot gate into the wall since there was no room for a swinging gate.