Balto. Co. nears deal to purchase Grumman plant Complex could house fire facilities and recreational areas

April 04, 1996|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,SUN STAFF

Baltimore County is planning to buy the huge Grumman Aerospace plant in Glenarm, in what is becoming a trend of consolidating government activities in large warehouse-style buildings and selling decaying, outmoded and smaller facilities.

Plans to buy the complex -- two manufacturing buildings totaling 360,000 square feet on 45 acres -- are preliminary, but county officials are excited about the prospects for its use.

"I'm very high on it," County Executive C. A. Dutch Ruppersberger III said. Officials want to move the county fire academy and fire maintenance garage from Towson, and a host of equipment repair and storage shops from nearby Texas. They also envision a recreational use -- creating as many as seven indoor soccer fields, or a combination of soccer, lacrosse, ice skating or other uses in one of the buildings.

The old shop buildings, on valuable land along York Road in Cockeysville, could then be sold to help pay the $5 million to $6 million asking price for the Grumman site, which is divided by the roadway into two parcels of land along the 12200 block of Long Green Pike.

"We need modern facilities with less people working in them," said Robert J. Barrett, special assistant to Mr. Ruppersberger.

For example, the Fire Depart- ment's repair garage in Towson was built in 1954 for a fleet four times smaller than the current one. It's so outmoded that half the work must be done outdoors, even in winter.

The fire academy's "burn building" next door, used to train recruits, is so worn out that the department stopped using it years ago.

Deputy Fire Chief John O'Neill, who has toured the vacant Grumman plant, said its advantages are "unbelievable -- it's like a wonderland for us."

Chief O'Neill said the cost of constructing a maintenance building would have been about $12 million, and he noted that plans in the late 1980s for a fire garage-academy complex at Sparrows Point carried a $20 million price tag.

The wide-ranging proposal for the Grumman complex grew out of the county's search for indoor soccer facilities. Government officials "stumbled" on the plant, said Michael H. Davis, a Ruppersberger administration spokesman.

Hundreds of young soccer players have had to stay up late on school nights for games scheduled at crowded private facilities. County recreation director John Weber said the potential uses for the Grumman building are numerous and tantalizing. "I think it's a really big deal." It's the best of perhaps 20 such buildings he's inspected for possible recreational uses, he said.

"The thrust from recreation and parks is that they need indoor soccer, big," Mr. Barrett said, adding that a building like the 183,000-square-foot Grumman machine shop could hold seven indoor soccer fields, or four regulation outdoor-size fields and one of indoor proportions. Such an operation could be self-supporting, he said.

A private company has announced plans for three indoor soccer fields in a smaller, former modular office manufacturing warehouse in White Marsh, and the Grumman purchase, if consummated, could serve the central county by early next year, Mr. Barrett said.

Several neighbors of the plant said they have no objection to the county's plans, although several community groups have petitioned to rezone the land from manufacturing to farm uses. "I don't mind one bit," said Henry Hunt, president of the Greenwood Community Association, who lives two miles away.

"I have nothing against it," said Barbara Amrein, who has lived next to the Grumman site for 31 years. The 300 Grumman employees who used to work there were no trouble, she said, adding that "the county would be a good neighbor, too."

Operations that might move to Grumman include the county's traffic signal repair shop, public works' equipment maintenance shop, 12 pieces of trash collection and sweeping equipment now kept at Texas and the fire facilities.

The move to buy the Grumman plant is similar to one the county made three months ago in acquiring an 83,850-square-foot warehouse in Hunt Valley from McCormick & Co., where it plans to consolidate several repair shops, a vehicle preparation garage and the Department of Recreation and Parks headquarters, then sell their old quarters.

County Councilman Joseph Bartenfelder, a Fullerton Democrat whose district includes the Grumman site, was the leading opponent of the $2.5 million McCormick purchase, complaining that it was too expensive.

The full council is to tour the Grumman plant late this month.

The plant opened in 1955 with a single building, as General Engineering Inc. of Baltimore, according to retired Grumman operations manager Paul Causey, 66, of Baldwin. The second building was erected 11 years ago.

Grumman took over in 1967, he said, and the plant's last jobs were building parts for F-14 fighter planes and manufacturing material for the space shuttle for other manufacturers.

The plant effectively closed by the end of 1993 as the defense aerospace business dwindled, and Robert Kearney, a Grumman corporate real estate expert from New York, said efforts to find a new operator for the machine parts plant failed.

"By the beginning of this year, we exhausted that," said Richard Latini, vice president of Colliers-Pinkard, a Baltimore real estate brokerage marketing the property. Grumman is removing its manufacturing machines and should vacate the property completely by the end of the year, he said.

Pub Date: 4/04/96

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