Hayden may scrap plans for fire academy, garage

April 25, 1991|By Dennis O'Brien | Dennis O'Brien,Baltimore County Bureau of The Sun

Plans for a $20 million fire training academy and vehicle maintenance shop in Sparrows Point, which have already cost $559,000, may be scrapped because Baltimore County Executive Roger B. Hayden thinks the facility could prove inefficient and cost too much.

"We're going to reconsider the whole project," Mr. Hayden said yesterday.

Mr. Hayden said he would rather build a central garage to maintain all county vehicles than move ahead with a proposal initiated under former Executive Dennis F. Rasmussen to build the fire training academy and custom-designed shop to maintain fire department trucks.

Mr. Hayden's capital budget does not include any money for planning or construction of the project.

"From an economy of scale, it makes better sense to work on all vehicles at one facility, rather than having a number of facilities for maintenance," Mr. Hayden said.

Budget Director Fred Homan said that $559,278 was spent over the past few years in preliminary survey work, schematic designs and material and bid specifications routinely completed as a first step toward construction of major projects.

The plans call for a T-shaped maintenance facility with 28 service bays and a storage garage, a fire academy building, a railroad car fire-training area, a driver-training course and a fire tower on a 26-acre parcel owned by Bethlehem Steel Corp. along Seventh Street at Sparrows Point.

County officials say the preliminary work was commissioned so that work could proceed immediately after the county took ownership of the land. Bethlehem Steel was considering donating the land.

"The whole idea was to not lose any time once the land was acquired in moving forward with the project," said Eugene Neff, the public works director.

Mr. Hayden said that despite the money invested so far, he is reconsidering the project because of its potential cost and because Bethlehem Steel has so far refused to assume liability for cleanup if any toxic materials are found at the site.

"I will not put Baltimore County at risk at that site," he said.

Fire Chief Elwood Banister said the county badly needs to replace the cramped, 36-year-old fire complex on Bosley Avenue in Towson, which is too small to handle maintenance of the 42 engines, 14 ladder trucks, 18 ambulance and other fire vehicles.

Chief Banister said the 24 repair technicians and other personnel assigned to work in the seven service bays are practically "tripping overeach other."

He added that firefighters now often train at state facilities at Baltimore-Washington International Airport or the Army's Aberdeen Proving Ground because the Bosley Avenue facility is so out-of-date and surrounding communities might object to smoke from training fires.

But Chief Banister said he understood Mr. Hayden's reasoning.

Bethlehem Steel has also been negotiating for the past four years to transfer a separate 363-acre tract to the county for an industrial park, and county economic development director Richard Story said those negotiations are continuing.

To foster good relations with the company, the county agreed in 1987 to give Bethlehem Steel a tax break that capped the 7.5 percent surcharge on electrical costs it pays to the county.

But Mr. Hayden said that the county may have given too much away -- without getting anything in return. The cap on the surcharge cost the county some $3 million last year, he said.

The county also agreed to take over partial maintenance of some private roads and to provide fire service at the steelmaker's Sparrows Point yards, Mr. Hayden said.

Assuming responsibility for fire service has cost the county $1 million and taking over highway maintenance has cost about $1.2 million over the past two years, county officials said.

"We gave away everything we had to deal with, without getting anything in return," Mr. Hayden said.

A spokesman for Bethlehem Steel said yesterday that in taking over fire service the county was only fulfilling its legal obligation to offer the fire protection and is doing no more for the steelmaker than it does for any other property owner.

The spokesman, Ted Baldwin, otherwise declined to comment on negotiations with the county.

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