Problematic police headquarters

April 06, 1993

What's going on with the Baltimore City plan to move the police headquarters?

Nearly a year has elapsed since Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke announced the city would acquire the old Hecht Co. store on Howard Street and move the police department there from the current headquarters building which is so filled with asbestos and riddled with ventilation problems it has to be vacated. Little has been heard about the plan since then. Is the plan still on, dead or dying?

City taxpayers have the right to get answers to these questions.

An architectural analysis of the Howard Street site suggests it would cost $40 million to convert the old department store building for law enforcement use. Not even that princely sum would remove some of the inherent inadequacies of the proposed new headquarters, which does not have sufficient square footage or adequate vehicle access.

So, what's going on, Mayor Schmoke?

Since the Hecht Co. selection was announced, this newspaper has questioned the wisdom of that choice. Having built a trouble-filled $13.6 million white elephant of a police headquarters less than 20 years ago, Baltimore City surely does not need another ill-suited central building for its law enforcement command. We strongly urge that the headquarters site selection question be reopened and alternative sites examined.

This whole process ought to be a public one. After all, the taxpayers of Baltimore will foot the bill, which promises to be considerable. So far, only $5 million has been budgeted for a new police headquarters. The rest would have to be financed through an industrial revenue bond or some other financial mechanism.

To those who work in the current headquarters near City Hall, every day brings reminders of its inadequacies. On some winter days, the temperature goets so low in some portions of the building that a glass of water left on the window sill will freeze! No wonder many employees resort to operating their own electric heaters, just as they use fans to cool their work space in the summer.

Because of such experiences, many headquarters employees think no amount of asbestos removal and reconstruction would turn the current building into a usable one. They may or may not be right. But several other headquarters options are still available to the city. Their advantages and comparative costs should be re-examined.

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