New questions about police HQ

September 02, 1993

The saga of Baltimore City's police headquarters continues. At its meeting yesterday, the Board of Estimates -- over strenuous objections from City Council President Mary Pat Clarke -- voted to spend nearly $2.6 million on a detailed architectural and engineering study of how to renovate the problem-plagued high-rise structure at Fayette Street and Fallsway.

"It's a wrong building in a wrong place," Ms. Clarke protested. She argued that the police headquarters acts as a barrier that hides an area that the city is trying to revive -- the boarded-up Fishmarket and the Brokerage complex.

Also protesting the decision were officials of the Manekin Corp. They were not disinterested parties because they are pushing their empty parcel at Guilford Avenue and Baltimore Street for the police headquarters. The Baltimore Sun Co. has also proposed the sale of its Calvert Street plant to the city. Both proposals have been rejected.

For better or worse, the Schmoke administration seems to have settled on the police department's existing site. In May, when the mayor reversed his decision to move the police headquarters to Howard Street, we welcomed the action. The Howard Street site simply had too many problems. It was too small, had poor vehicle access and no possibility for a helicopter landing pad.

The plan is to spend $32 million to reconstruct the interior of the police headquarters building. The structure has been a disaster from the day it opened. Designed to the wishes of the late Police Commissioner Donald Pomerleau, the tower never had adequate ventilation. It is filled with poisonous asbestos. The building core awkwardly located, the elevators do not work. This whole mess would be rehabbed over a period of three to three-and-a-half years. In the meantime, an annex would be built to house the headquarters functions.

At the Board of Estimates, Messrs. Manekin and Alter pleaded for their site. But they did more. They warned the city against getting into the headaches of trying to renovate a badly designed white elephant of an office building. You never know what problems crop up, they said, and once you get going, you have to finish it, even though costs may go through the roof. In the end, the city would still have a dressed-up old building with such lingering problems as the inconveniently placed building core and elevator wells.

As the costly engineering study gets under way, we urge Mayor Schmoke and the Board of Estimates to monitor its early findings carefully. If it becomes clear that renovating the existing headquarters is problematic, they should give up on the rehab approach and consider other options.

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