U.S. Senate panel OKs Constellation repair funds

August 03, 1994

The U.S. Senate Appropriations Committee has approved a $1 million shot in the arm for the Inner Harbor's forlorn centerpiece, the sloop of war Constellation.

The money to help begin repair and restoration of the ship, which is at least 141 years old, was included in the 1995 defense appropriations bill at the request of Sen. Paul S. Sarbanes, a Maryland Democrat.

Before the measure can become law, it must be approved by the full Senate.

Then, since there is no appropriation in the House bill, the Senate measure must also survive a joint conference committee.

Even so, "we're fairly optimistic we will be able to uphold this in conference," said Charlie Stek, projects director for Mr. Sarbanes. "There is strong interest on both sides in protecting the Constellation and in preserving historic ships."

Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin, a Maryland Democrat, is working to protect the funding in the House.

A Navy inspection a year ago this week revealed that the ship -- the last all-sail vessel built for the Navy -- was seriously deteriorated. Its masts and rigging were removed in March as a safety precaution.

Gail Shawe, who heads the restoration effort in Baltimore, said the Senate committee's action "shows there's some broader commitment to this project." If the federal money is approved, "I think we go into high gear to get the ship into dry dock, and we gear up in terms of staff."

The U.S.F. Constellation Foundation is drafting a restoration plan for presentation to the Navy by early fall.

A financing campaign for the multimillion-dollar project has not begun, but the ship has already received a $50,000 commitment from Baltimore and $5,000 from the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

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