Moving times finally here for county agencies

May 16, 1994|By Ed Heard | Ed Heard,Sun Staff Writer

The move of 11 Howard County department offices and quasi-government groups to the Gateway building in East Columbia during the next month will relieve overcrowding, consolidate services and save money in office space rental, county officials say.

Planned two years ago and begun last week, the move brings together related county agencies and community service groups previously spread across the county. It also gives Howard Community College room for classroom expansion.

"It gives us a little bit of breathing room, and it's a better deal," said James M. Irvin, director of the county Public Works Department. "It's a win-win situation for everybody."

The relocation of at least 81 government workers from Columbia and Ellicott City to the Gateway building, near Route 175 and Snowden River Parkway, will occur in two phases. The first phase is to be completed by June 14, and the second in August.

Movers will haul about 4,000 boxes during the first phase, said David Gentry, project manager of Maryland Office Relocators Inc., contracted by the county to handle the move.

Today, five departments should settle in at new locations: the Department of Fire and Rescue Services; the Office of Housing and Community Development; the Health Department; the police Education and Training Division; and part of the Department of General Services.

Six other groups relocating in Phase I are: the Office of Aging, Citizens Services, Community Action Council, Human Rights Commission, the Economic Development Authority and the Purchasing Office.

Phase II will move Cable 15, now in the Hickory Ridge building in West Columbia, to offices being vacated in the John Carroll building in Ellicott City. The Environmental Services Bureau of Public Works, now in the Howard building, will move to the Gateway building. The Central Services and Finance departments, both in the Howard building, will expand.

The move to the Gateway building shifts five government offices from the Hickory Ridge building. The resulting space in the Hickory Ridge building will be used for expansion of Howard Community College, which already conducts classes on one floor of the building.

Other offices will be moving from a complex in the 9200 block of Rumsey Road, where the county has paid $220,000 in annual rent for five years.

Since the late 1970s, county offices had been centralized primarily in the Howard building in Ellicott City. But as the county population increased -- there were 119,000 residents in 1980, and 210,000 this year -- more agencies were formed to meet growings needs, and county office space ran out, and space had to be leased in private buildings.

"The government didn't keep pace with the county," said Rufus Clanzy, director of the county's General Services Department. "People working on similar concerns need to be in communication distance."

During the real estate recession two years ago, the county worked to address the need for additional space by looking at dozens of buildings.

The Gateway building was being held by the Resolution Trust Corp., the federal agency charged with overseeing the savings and loan cleanup.

The county paid $3.4 million for the building last year, which was then valued at about $10 million, officials said. After renovations, the bill for the five-floor, 93,000-square-foot Gateway building came to $6 million.

Construction of a new office complex could have taken up to five years and cost as much as $20 million, Mr. Wacks said.

"The recession and the savings and loan crisis presented us with the opportunity to buy the building at a low price and we took advantage of that," Mr. Wacks said.

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