Boosters still await money to restore Constellation $500,000 from state falls short of request

April 14, 1996|By Frank D. Roylance | Frank D. Roylance,SUN STAFF

The sagging warship Constellation may still make it into a Fort McHenry dry dock this summer, even though it got less money from the General Assembly than its boosters had said they needed before committing the ship to the costly repairs.

"We hope to move the ship . . . sometime this summer, or early fall at the latest. We've got to get her out of the water," said Gail Shawe, chairwoman of the Constellation Foundation.

State lawmakers voted near the close of this year's session to provide $500,000 toward the restoration. That added to the $500,000 lawmakers appropriated last year, but it fell short of the $750,000 the foundation and the governor had requested.

"It's my sense, and that of a number of members of the board, that once the ship is moved and there's more sense of accomplishment and emergency, that we will be able to get larger grants from the state," Ms. Shawe said.

Based on that, she said, "We feel pretty confident we will go forward and can go forward" with plans to begin the repairs this year.

A centerpiece of Baltimore's Inner Harbor, the 1854 sloop of war was the last all-sail warship built for the Navy and made the first naval capture of the Civil War.

It was stripped of its masts and rigging in 1994 and closed to the public after a Navy inspection found it to be badly rotted and unsafe. The foundation that maintained the ship was broken and has since been reorganized.

The Constellation Foundation is trying to raise $9 million for the restoration, including $3 million each from the state, Baltimore and private donors.

Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke has promised to provide the city's full share this year.

The ship's caretakers have said they needed assurance that all $3 million from the state would be in hand before the planned 28-month restoration work is completed.

Gov. Parris N. Glendening has pledged his support and had asked the legislature to allocate $750,000 this year.

But if the General Assembly continues to provide just $500,000 a year, it would take four more years -- six years in all -- to complete its $3 million contribution.

"They need to understand that it's not going to help us to get the money six years down the road," Ms. Shawe said.

Louis F. Linden, the nonprofit foundation's executive director, said the costs associated with the project are mostly materials and labor, and "you have to have both those things [paid for] to get the boat out of the dry dock."

Extending the work would make it more costly, he said. Delaying it risks losing the leaking ship.

But Ms. Shawe said she remains grateful for what the Assembly was able to do in a difficult year and confident that the pace of its commitment will pick up in future sessions.

In the meantime, Ms. Shawe said, some new private pledges should be announced in coming weeks.

She also said some other potential corporate donors are waiting for the ship to be moved before commiting money.

"I can understand that," she said. "Until the ship's moved, it's all planning."

Other donors are spacing their commitments over three years, she said.

"Everyone is concerned that we not spend millions of dollars on the foundation while we're planning to move the ship. And we're not going to allow that to happen."

Pub Date: 4/14/96

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