City police HQ stays put

May 06, 1993

Thanks to City Council President Mary Pat Clarke and Comptroller Jacqueline McLean, a costly mistake has been averted. We are referring to Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke's half-baked plan to move the police headquarters from its current site near City Hall to the old Hecht Co. department store building on Howard Street.

In his haste to announce the move, the mayor undoubtedly was motivated by good intentions. He thought police headquarters would bring life and economic action to the Howard Street ghost town. Except that he never bothered to study comparative costs or the feasibility of putting a police headquarters into a building that was clearly too small for it.

Persistent questioning by Ms. Clarke and Ms. McLean forced the Schmoke administration back to the drawing board. When realistic cost and development alternatives were studied, it was evident the Howard Street site would be a mistake. To his credit, Mayor Schmoke reversed his decision. The police headquarters will stay near City Hall. An adjoining annex will be built at the corner of the Fallsway and Fayette Street, allowing the city to reconstruct the interior of the existing headquarters high-rise floor by floor.

In view of the city's financial constraints, this is the best solution to the scandalous history of the police headquarters. Constructed just two decades ago at considerable cost to taxpayers, it was completed in a slipshod fashion. It's filled with asbestos. Even more incredibly, many ventilation ducts on the blueprints were never constructed. The result is a building that is not only a potential health hazard but hot as an oven in the summer and cold as a freezer in the winter.

Yet there is nothing wrong with the location.

If anything, the convenience of the headquarters building will be underscored in future years, when The Block is cleared of pornography and prostitution, the local heritage district completed around the main City Life Museums complex and the waterfront between Little Italy and Fells Point filled with new commercial and residential developments. The location has easy access to the Jones Falls Expressway and soon-to-be-opened Metro line; it also has a helicopter landing pad.

This most recent chapter in the sad history of the police headquarters should be regarded as a lesson: inadequate planning and preparation -- and sloppy construction -- are certain to lead to costly problems.

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