Banneker Park groundbreaking delayed for months

September 06, 1995|By Elaine Tassy | Elaine Tassy,Sun Staff Writer

To the dismay of supporters, groundbreaking is months behind schedule for Baltimore County's Banneker Historical Park, a project that has been in the discussion and planning stages for a decade.

Bureaucratic delays and disagreements involving a subcontractor on the project have been blamed for delaying bids on construction of the park -- a memorial to scientist Benjamin Banneker. Bids were to have been advertised in February and let in April, with a late-summer groundbreaking.

The county now expects bids on the $10 million project to be advertised this month and construction to begin in February, a delay termed "very unusual" by Albert R. Svehla Jr., deputy director of the Department of Recreation and Parks.

The park will be on a 130-acre site in Oella, where Banneker -- known as "the first black man of science" -- lived from 1731 to 1806 and wrote almanacs, studied the stars, predicted a solar eclipse and constructed a wooden clock.

"I thought by now we would be ready to break ground," said Leroy Giles, chairman of the board of the Friends of Banneker Historical Park, which has raised $10,000.

Frederick Hickok, treasurer of the group and director of the Benjamin Banneker Planetarium at Catonsville Community College, said the project's landscape architect "kind of cautioned us that things can drag on, but it sounds like they are dragging on a bit long."

Mr. Svehla said the delay is unprecedented. "I've been involved with the capital projects for recreation and parks since 1984," he said. "This is the first time we've ever had any serious delays. . . . It's the first time we've ever had anything like this happen."

Staff changes in several county departments have slowed the park's progress, and the department is "drifting a little bit here, but with our new reorganization we should see a real turnaround," he said.

Another problem, he said, is that subcontractors hired by Slater Associates Inc., a Columbia landscape architecture business with a $187,800 contract for the Banneker project, have been uncooperative at times.

Mr. Svehla said some subcontractors, which he would not identify, claimed they were not getting paid and balked at working. He said they also withheld from the county's public works office some design information and computations, which stalled other work.

John Slater, president of Slater Associates, said, "That's news to me." He acknowledged problems with "one subcontractor" but declined to elaborate.

Mr. Slater said his company has been waiting for the public works office to decide on the size of roadway acceleration lanes and for word on whether the project will get a waiver on a state forest conservation requirement that involves replacing trees on site that are felled in the landscaping.

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