Research lab workers are resigned to 'hit list' fate ANNAPOLIS/SOUTH COUNTY -- Davidsonville * Edgewater * Shady Side * Deale

March 16, 1993|By Peter Hermann | Peter Hermann,Staff Writer

Twice in two years, the Pentagon has come knocking at the David Taylor Research Center, now called the Naval Surface Warfare Center, in Annapolis. Both times it's been bad news.

In 1991, workers and engineers fought hard, but unsuccessfully, against the transfer of about 400 workers to the Carderock facility in Montgomery County. Friday, when the Pentagon "hit list" hit them again, many said they would retire.

"Like everybody else, I'm very discouraged," said Wayne Adams, a mechanical engineer who has worked at the center for 35 years. "I think a lot of us will try to retire or go into the private sector."

He, like others interviewed as they left work Friday, said the announcement that the center was being closed as part of Defense Secretary Les Aspin's base closing plan was not unexpected. "I felt that when they reduced the size by half in 1991, that would give them justification to close the entire facility," Mr. Adams said.

Other engineers and researchers described the mood as somber. Some, like warehouse foreman John McGowans, called the plans "a shuffle" that will end up wasting money.

Others said they worried that important research projects may never get completed. "I'm devastated," said Greg Brunner, an engineer who has worked at the center for 10 years and has explored ways to preserve the ozone layer. "These programs will be dropped."

And while officials at the center said they are still waiting for final numbers and assignments, Cmdr. Roger Walker said "it is not a surprise" to see the lab on the Pentagon's list.

"This is not considered a huge impact on the area," Commander Walker said. "But we do have a large budget and with this economy, it will cause some pain."

The warfare center was one of several facilities in Maryland to either be closed or restructured. Hundreds of others face a similar fate across the United States. The recommendations will now go to the Base Closure Commission, to Congress and finally President Clinton.

If signed into law, 350 people -- all civilians -- will be transferred from the warfare center, located on the Severn River opposite the U.S. Naval Academy.

While new assignments are not final, Jim Scott, a center spokesman, said 300 people probably will go to Philadelphia and 50 to Carderock.

Mr. Scott said workers could begin moving out of the Annapolis lab starting in 1996. He said a skeleton staff may remain to operate several laboratories that are impossible to move, such as the Deep Ocean Pressure Simulation Facility and the Magnetic Fields Laboratory.

"We don't know the full impact right now," Mr. Scott said. "All we have is a lot of numbers."

In 1991, the Annapolis research center lost about 400 employees, although many are still waiting to be transferred to the Carderock Division. Those moves are to be completed by 1996.

Numerous Maryland lawmakers, spurred on by workers, had unsuccessfully fought against cuts at research facilities, arguing labs should not be included on a base closure list because their technical missions deserved special review.

Friday, employees interviewed said it was time to either quit or move to another company.

Carlton Jones, an electrician who has worked in Annapolis for 17 years, said he will try to work at the Patuxent Naval Air Station, near his home in St. Leonard. "I assumed this would happen sooner or later," he said of the closing.

Mr. Adams, who lives in Annapolis, said he does not want to drive the 50 miles to Carderock or move to Philadelphia.

He said he was working on a project to turn sea water into fresh drinking water. "We're not making armaments," he said. "We are doing things that will help improve the economy and provide jobs."

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