The Board of Estimates approved yesterday the hiring of a local architectural firm to determine whether the former Hecht Co. department store on Howard Street is suitable for a headquarters for the Baltimore Police Department.
At the suggestion of City Comptroller Jacqueline F. McLean, the board agreed to allocate up to $187,000 for feasibility studies and preliminary design work by a team headed by Ayers Saint Gross of Baltimore.
Also on the team is Carter and Goble Associates, a South Carolina firm that specializes in planning law enforcement facilities.
Baltimore Development Corp., the city agency that oversees downtown development, had requested that the board allocate up to $625,425 for more extensive design work.
Ms. McLean said that after the architects completed their preliminary study and reported back to the board with their findings, rather than receiving the money all at once, the board would be in a better position to make sure that design funds are spent wisely.
She recommended that the architects start by meeting with representatives of the police department to survey the space needs of each police division and make sure the divisions can be accommodated in the eight-story Hecht building.
"They just want to make sure the Hecht Co. is the right building," architect Glenn Birx of Ayers Saint Gross said of the board's action. "They want us to take it one step at a time and report back to them every step of the way, and that's the way to go."
Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke earlier this year recommended the former Hecht building at Howard and Lexington streets as the site for a new police headquarters that would replace the present one in the 600 block of E. Fayette St.
The current headquarters is plagued with mechanical problems that cannot be fixed economically without relocating the employees.
Mr. Schmoke indicated when he chose the Hecht building that it would suit the police department's needs while helping rejuvenate the Howard Street retail corridor.
But since then, some city officials have voiced concerns about the Hecht building's suitability for the police department, given the lack of on-site parking, limited vehicular access from Howard Street and Lexington Mall, and other factors.
Since the Hecht building was identified as the city's first choice for a new police headquarters, the Schmoke administration has sought City Council legislation to allow acquisition of a smaller building just west of Hecht's, if necessary, to provide better access to a headquarters.