Discovery of landfills delays sale of center State must determine environmental safety of Henryton property

January 30, 1996|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,SUN STAFF

Just when the state found four potential buyers for a vacant property in Marriottsville, sale of the property was delayed recently after officials discovered three landfills on the site.

A year ago, the state said it no longer needed the Henryton Center in the southeast corner of Carroll County and placed it on the market.

"We have four offers that we are evaluating," said Dave Humphrey, spokesman for the state Department of General Services. "In the course of the evaluation, we discovered the landfills, and we are investigating for the potential of environmental problems."

The buyers have been told about the landfills, Mr. Humphrey said.

Built in 1923 as a tuberculosis hospital, Henryton's 18 buildings stretch across 70 wooded acres surrounded by Patapsco State Park.

In 1962, the hospital was converted to a center for the developmentally disabled. When the number of patients dropped to less than 100 in 1984, the center closed.

Richard K. Betters, coordinator in the state Real Estate Office, said the landfills are actually three flat places on the property, which the state found through reviews of anecdotal reports from former employees.

"I doubt anything hazardous exists in the landfills," said Mr. Betters. "But, we have to know what is there so the state is not liable in the future."

His office is reviewing the employees' reports and may have to do test borings to determine the landfills' contents.

"This has really thrown the sale into a tailspin," said Mr. Betters. "We have to make a decision soon, because it is holding up the sale."

Although vacant for 12 years, Henryton costs the state a minimum of $100,000 annually to maintain.

"The yearly upkeep is quite expensive," said Mr. Betters. "The sale would mean savings for the state."

Maintenance has meant little more than minor weatherizing, fencing and intermittent security patrols to prevent vandalism. Nearly all of the buildings have asbestos problems, and abatement would be necessary and costly.

"Whenever there is asbestos, there are costs associated in dealing with it," Steve Cassard, assistant secretary for real estate at the Department of General Services, said. "It's not the main issue, but it is a factor at Henryton. We can't transfer a liability and have it come back to us."

The property has for years been a liability to the state Department of Health and Mental Hygiene. In 1993, Gov. William Donald Schaefer and nine department heads toured the site and decided the state had no use for the buildings' 228,000 square feet.

Most considered the complex too big, too isolated and too costly to renovate. It was officially declared surplus in December 1994.

Since advertising and showing the property, the state has received four offers, Mr. Cassard said at a recent gathering of local and county officials at Springfield Hospital Center.

"We are in negotiations," said Mr. Cassard. "Strategically, we would like to transfer the title by July 1. I could say that would happen from one of these proposals."

Procurement law prohibits officials from discussing details of the offers, said Mr. Humphrey.

"You have to engage in negotiations in a way that there is no advantage to any party," said Mr. Cassard.

Although the state had a figure in mind when it advertised the property, publicizing that assessment would not be in its best interest, Mr. Humphrey said.

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