Training police at Springfield Driver-ed complex good news, but no economic boon for Sykesville.

June 17, 1996

PLANS TO BUILD a public safety training center to serve Maryland's 25,000 corrections and law enforcement officers on 720 acres of the state Springfield Hospital Center near Sykesville are going ahead after five years on hold.

It's the first phase of converting the extensive acreage of the mental hospital, which observes its centennial this year with the prospect of being shut down by the end of this decade. The state hospital has but 400 patients today, compared with more than 5,000 patients in the 1940s.

The state Board of Public Works gave approval to the $46 million project last month, authorizing construction of a driver-training facility this year, along with renovation of 14 century-old brick buildings at the southeast end of the complex for classrooms, administrative offices and dormitories.

When completed next year, the drivers' center expects to have 40 instructors and as many as 400 pupils in classes daily. Over the next five years, plans call for construction of a firing range, computer lab, mock courtroom and jail, and physical training facilities.

The good news for nearby communities is that the new public safety training center will be isolated from the area: minimal noise nuisance from squealing tires on the emergency driving course and from gunshots on the firing range. Wetlands and forested areas will limit much additional construction, and the complex is bordered on the south by parkland.

But that isolation is also bad news: most of the trainees will remain on site for room and board, traveling in government-fueled vehicles, while the instructors will likely commute from their current homes. The economic impact on local business, and on the county tax base, will be modest, in spite of the center's plans to accommodate 700 students when fully built out.

Sykesville will see more traffic through town along congested Route 32, but little else. The best news for area residents is that the hospital will not be turned into a rumored state prison.

South Carroll's primary hope to benefit from the Springfield conversion is for private economic development of the 130 acres and a dozen buildings that the state has announced plans to sell. Sykesville hopes to annex that land and develop it as an industrial zone.

Pub Date: 6/17/96

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