For 25 years, Maryland City residents have been trying to get a community center built so that they have some place to hold meetings, coordinate activities and gather for various social functions.
But the goal has proved elusive, lost in a maze of political changes, fiscal constraints and a general feeling among residents that their community in western Anne Arundel is an expendable part of the county.
Tonight, civic association members are planning to pack a County Council budget hearing in hopes of persuading lawmakers to pay for a proposed fire-training center -- a county facility residents think may be their last chance for getting a community center.
But the fight won't be easy. Fire officials say a training center in West Countyis not needed and will recommend to County Executive Robert R. Neallthat the project be dropped.
"If you are really interested and concerned, we're going to have to be organized," Councilman David G. Boschert, D-Crownsville, told civic association members last week. "Thecommunity has to go to the public hearings and demand it. It's goingto be a tough sell, but it can be done.
"The supplemental budget is the only recourse we have," said Boschert, who has made it a priority to get a community center or fire-training facility for Maryland City. "If it is not in there, we will have to wait another year."
That prospect doesn't sit well with Ray Smallwood, the town's fire chief and civic association president. "Boschert told us that this was his No. 1 priority for the district," he said. "This is what we want and if he can't give it to us, we want a reason why."
The center also would serve as Maryland City's community center, allowing the civic association, which meets in the Brockbridge Elementary School and Smallwood's small fire station office, to have permanent and better space.
Community leaders say the schools don't want to house after-hour activities because of budget woes. And when Russett Center, a 5,000-unit planned-unit development, is completed in the next few years, bringing thousands of new residents to the area, the strain on services will multiply.
"You are out of room," Boschert conceded to residents. "There is no getting around that."
The fire-training center proposal surfaced three years ago when the county told Maryland City it could not afford to build a community center but could expand the Maryland City fire station on Route 198.
Smallwood and other residents thought that would be a perfect solution. He said the countyneeds another training facility and when it is not being used by firefighters, it could be used by residents.
The civic association started to design an addition, but the county came back with a proposalfor two buildings costing $4.5 million on 6 acres of land behind theStarting Gate Lounge, near the current fire station.
Former County Executive O. James Lighthizer, earmarked $1 million for the projectand put a $100,000 down payment on the land, owned by Curtis F. Peterson Inc., the developer of nearby Russett Center.
But the election of County Executive Robert R. Neall and the beginning of the on-going recession seem to have quashed plans for the training center.
The civic association proposed going back to the original plans, whichSmallwood says would save the county $3 million. But the county now says a fire-training center isn't needed. It even got its "non-refundable" $100,000 check back from the developer.
"They asked if we would consider giving the check back, and we agreed to do that," said Joel Mostrom, president of Curtis F. Peterson Inc.
"We really feel that we have a good working relationship with the county," he said. "We would like to keep it that way. Given that they made a decision there was no need for the center, there was no reason for us to keep the money."
Now, Smallwood complains that acting Fire Administrator Paul C. Haigley, who came on board in February, is dead-set against anew training center in West County.
"He says, unequivocally, 'No,' " Smallwood said. "He absolutely does not want to burden the taxpayers with that type of building. Not in this part of the county. He says the training center in Millersville is more than adequate. I can assure you that it is not."
Boschert said Neall has said he will goalong with Haigley's recommendation. Haigley "says it will be a bingo hall," he said. "That is a slap in the face."
Haigley was not available for comment Friday. But a spokesman said the administrator will not support providing money for the training center.
"In tough economic times, decisions are made," said Capt. Gary Sheckells, the county Fire Department's spokesman. "They are not always popular decisions. The project does not exist at this point."
Sheckells said that the Millersville facilities are adequate for the county but that the department is reviewing all stations to see what, if any, changes need to be made.