Hecht site for police falling out of favor BALTIMORE CITY

April 23, 1993|By Joe Nawrozki and Roger Twigg | Joe Nawrozki and Roger Twigg,Staff Writers

Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke appears to be backing away from the $40 million plan to move the problem-plagued Baltimore police headquarters to an abandoned department store at Howard and Lexington streets.

Nearly a year after he introduced the plan and spent $187,000 for a feasibility study, Mr. Schmoke said yesterday that the former Hecht Co. building does not meet the needs of the Police Department "as it moves into the next decade."

"We are going to rethink our options," Mr. Schmoke said. "They include looking at constructing a new building, an on-site renovation of the current headquarters and renovating other sites.

"The issue here is the police needs in the future and that it appears those future needs will not be met at the old Hecht Co." building, he said.

Located in the 600 block of E. Fayette St., the headquarters building, with its mirrored exterior, was built nearly 20 years ago for $13.6 million. Ten years ago, asbestos was found to have been used as insulation around duct work, and occupants since then have expressed concerns about health issues.

While city officials deny any major asbestos problem, cleanup crews have over the years removed loose asbestos at a number of locations in the building.

Another major problem is heating and ventilation. Studies have shown that the systems don't furnish heat or cool air to some areas.

For example, there are no vents in the public information office on the first floor, and during the warm months, temperatures have reportedly reached 110 degrees in the department's Internal Investigation Division on the mezzanine floor.

In nearly every office, department employees keep fans or portable heaters. In winter months, heat in some areas soars above 100 degrees while other workers shiver.

Glasses of water left on some windowsills during the winter have been known to start to freeze, employees have said.

About 800 employees, police officers and civilians, work in the building, according to a spokesman.

Mr. Schmoke said he will receive today or tomorrow a final report on a feasibility study of the proposed headquarters move conducted by the Baltimore Development Corp., the quasi-public group that oversees downtown development for the Schmoke administration.

Susan Eliasburg, a spokesman for the development agency, did not comment on the report and referred all questions to the mayor's office.

Last September, the development agency asked the Board of Estimates to allocate up to $625,425 for an extensive study of the Howard Street location. But the board voted only for the $187,000 first phase of the study.

Council President Mary Pat Clarke, who sits on the board, said it wanted to weigh the findings of the first-phase study of space and design before spending additional money.

A high-ranking police source who is familiar with the relocation plan said it was vigorously pushed by the Schmoke administration to help revitalize the Howard Street retail corridor.

The source said most of the command staff was against the move because the Hecht Co. building lacks adequate space and parking for police vehicles. The source also said that police vehicles would have trouble moving through congested downtown streets and narrow alleys to respond to emergencies.

Other sources said that there was also concern about relocating the helicopter landing zone -- now on the reinforced roof of the eight-story headquarters.

Some of those sources have supported moving the headquarters to the old Montgomery Ward store on Monroe Street and Washington Boulevard in South Baltimore, a much larger plant with room for parking.

City Comptroller Jacqueline F. McLean said yesterday, "The sad part is that it took so long to come to this decision. The move just wasn't logical. I know because I used to love to shop at the old Hecht Co. store, and there just wasn't enough room."

Ms. Clarke said that moving police headquarters to the Hecht Co. store was like "trying to fit a size 9 foot into a size 6 shoe."

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