Corrections officials assure residents that Sykesville won't get another prison State outlines plan for police training center

January 21, 1996|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,SUN STAFF

Nearly 800 acres of vacant land offers too much room to grow for an agency that builds prisons, some South Carroll residents say.

What's sounding an alarm is the recently announced transfer of 790 acres from Springfield Hospital Center to the Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services.

But some other community representatives said after a meeting with state corrections officials last week that their fears that Sykesville will get a second prison were allayed.

In explaining the fears, Carroll County Commissioner W. Benjamin Brown said, "The public hears 'Department of Corrections' and thinks prisons."

The Central Laundry Facility, a minimum-security prison for about 500 inmates serving out the end of their sentences, adjoins the south end of Springfield Hospital. One prison in South Carroll is enough, residents say.

Corrections officials assured residents last week that there will not be another prison in Sykesville. In a meeting with community leaders at the hospital, they provided detailed maps of their newly acquired property, which is east of the hospital campus. The audience saw the plans for a $46 million Public Safety Training Center, which will be surrounded by wetlands and woods.

"We have no need, desire or any plans for a corrections facility on this site," said David N. Bezanson, deputy secretary of the Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services. "The department does not intend to expand any correctional facilities on this property."

The agency is building the comprehensive police training school on 70 acres of the parcel, recently transferred from the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene. Up to 700 officers a BTC day will be able to participate in basic training and career development refresher courses, officials said.

"There will be more police here than any other place in the state," said Del. Richard N. Dixon, a Carroll Democrat who has worked for years to bring the center to the county.

A firing range and driver training grounds will adjoin the east side of Springfield, which sprawls along Route 32. Access to the training center would be from Raincliffe Road.

Scheduled to open late in 1997, the center is expected to employ about 100 people and offer technical training and classroom experience to the nearly 25,000 officers in police and correctional agencies throughout the state.

With a medium-security prison now under construction in Cumberland, the state will have prisons "sufficient for our needs," Mr. Bezanson said.

Kathy Horneman, president of the South Carroll Coalition, has monitored state plans for Springfield. She said she felt reassured by the comments. "He couldn't have been any clearer," she said.

Matthew H. Candland, Sykesville town manager, called the police training center a positive addition to South Carroll.

"The possibility of a prison seems resolved at, least for the time being," Mr. Candland said.

Wetlands and forested areas designated for retention would deter construction on much of the property, which borders residential areas and a county park. Property east of Slacks Road also is wetlands.

"Virtually all the land north and east of the training center is designated for retention as forest land," said Raymond A. Franklin, assistant director of the Police and Correctional Training Commissions and project manager. "We don't get to change our minds about that."

The woods, which surround much of the school, will provide a noise buffer, particularly for the firing range, Mr. Bezanson said.

"We want to make sure the noise does not disturb the local community," he said.

Dan Hughes, founder of Better Solutions for South Carroll, said he still was uncomfortable that the corrections agency owns so much land.

"That is an awful lot of buffer land," he said. "I hope it's not a back door for a prison."

Other residents, asking not to be identified, have echoed his skepticism.

The General Assembly has approved about $11 million for the driver training facility, the first phase of the training center.

"The better we can train, the safer the public will be," said Mr. Franklin. "Driver training is critical. We have more driving injuries than any other, including firearms."

Plans call for tactical and highway response courses, an urban grid and a skid pad to simulate highways, city streets and rural roads. Construction will start this spring, with completion set for late next year, Mr. Franklin said.

"The design work is completed and bids are imminent," he said. "We are hoping to break ground March 1."

The $35 million or so needed to complete the center hasn't been approved, but the request is expected to come before the legislature this session.

To save money, the corrections department plans to renovate the 14 vacant buildings in the Martin Gross complex, the first buildings constructed on the hospital campus nearly 100 years ago.

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