High-tech center's status debated

May 01, 1994|By Sherrie Ruhl | Sherrie Ruhl,Sun Staff Writer

Construction of a Higher Education and Applied Technology Center, nicknamed HEAT, could help shape the future of Harford's economic development, according to County Executive Eileen M. Rehrmann.

But critics say development of the 150-acre site near Aberdeen, where Route 22 crosses over Interstate 95, is a waste of money.

County Council President Jeffrey D. Wilson believes plans to build a high-technology campus and industrial park should be scrapped because, after spending thousands of dollars and at least six years planning, no progress has been made.

"A more apt title for this would be 'deep freeze,' " Mr. Wilson said at a budget work session Tuesday morning. "This project is going nowhere."

The site, which is owned by the state, is covered with trees, scrub brush and wetlands.

It is overgrown and impossible to reach by car. There are no access roads. Currently, a park-and-ride is at the edge of the parcel along Route 22.

The state, which is donating the site, has agreed to pay for basic services, such as extending water and sewer lines from Aberdeen across Interstate 95, Mrs. Rehrmann said.

The county wants to build a 9,000-square-foot building, which would be used by Harford Community College, to get the technology park going.

The building, which Mrs. Rehrmann said could be completed in 1995 or 1996, would be the centerpiece of the 12-acre high-tech campus planned for the site.

Four years ago, the county said it would construct a 30,000-square-foot building but revised its plans down to 18,000 square feet and then 9,000 square feet to keep construction costs within its $1.5 million budget.

Last year, the county and state each set aside $750,000 for construction money for the first building.

"This project is getting so watered down, let's not build something there just to say we're moving forward," said Councilman Robert S. Wagner, R-District E.

But Mrs. Rehrmann, who is running for a second term as county executive, said it's important to move forward with the HEAT center because it represents future jobs and revenues.

"You have to have vision, to look out into the future. By refusing to build HEAT, we maintain the status quo, with no plan for the future," she said.

The county has spent about $100,000 for preliminary work at the HEAT site, such as developing a master plan, according to James D. Fielder, director of economic development.

Mr. Fielder said HEAT's master plan calls for the construction of 600,000 to 900,000 square feet of office and industrial space.

The buildings, which would be built by high-tech companies moving to the county, would be clustered in six or seven areas. However, no companies have signed agreements to move to the site.

There would also be a 12-acre campus devoted to high-tech courses and advanced degrees.

W. Stephen Pannill, vice president of administration and finance at HCC, said the HEAT site will not duplicate classes offered at the community college.

Instead, he said, the college will form partnerships with other colleges and universities to offer bachelor's and master's degrees at the site. HCC offers two-year associate of arts degrees.

Last year the College of Notre Dame of Baltimore began a weekend college at HCC, offering bachelor's degrees in

business, nursing and education.

Mr. Pannill said HCC was close to signing an agreement with Morgan State University to offer an engineering degree and is seeking agreements with other universities and colleges. He said no agreements have been signed.

John Frank Roth Jr., civilian deputy at Aberdeen Proving Ground, said the military base can provide HEAT with instructors from many technical fields.

"Our employees and military also need more opportunities for advanced degrees, including those at the graduate and doctorate level. Advanced degree training is somewhat sparse in this area," he said.

Mr. Roth said the military base sends some of its employees to Drexel University in Philadelphia or the University of Delaware for science degrees.

And, he said the HEAT center could be among the nation's leaders in environmental studies because Aberdeen Proving Ground has some strong programs for dealing with toxic waste cleanup or hazardous materials.

"Students could go to HEAT to learn the basics and then come here to get real-world experience," he said.

Ron Szczybor, a candidate for county executive and a member of the budget advisory board, said it is foolish to spend county and state money on the site without signed agreements.

"If Harford Community College needs to expand, wouldn't it be cheaper and more logical to build at its current campus?" he asked.

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