Carroll officials hail training complex Law enforcement agencies will get driving lessons

September 23, 1998|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,SUN STAFF

Carroll and local town officials praised the opening of the state's Driver Training Facility for law enforcement yesterday as a boon to the county's economy and public safety. They also said it will help keep open one of Carroll's largest employers.

The one-mile roadway and classroom complex is the first of three phases in the $53 million Public Safety Training Center in Sykesville, a project originally scheduled for completion in 2007.

And with an additional $16 million in state money announced yesterday, the center will be completed by 2002, five years ahead of schedule.

"This really puts us on the map as far as police are concerned," said Commissioner Donald I. Dell. "It means employment, too."

The training center will help keep open Springfield Hospital, its .. nearest neighbor, officials said. The state has considered closing the hospital, Carroll's third-largest employer.

"This facility is great news for Springfield, because it means it's not going to close," said state Treasurer Richard N. Dixon, a former county legislator who worked for years to bring the training center to Carroll.

Dixon vowed to complete the project on time. He paid tribute to Louis L. Goldstein, the former state comptroller who insisted the state find a use for abandoned buildings in the hospital's Martin Gross Complex. Those buildings will become dormitories and classrooms for trainees.

Funding for the project came from court fees of criminals and violators of traffic laws.

"The center means we are getting tax dollars that we need, and they are coming from the people who caused crime problems," said Commissioner Richard T. Yates.

Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend faced officers and local officials who gave her several standing ovations as she spoke at the dedication yesterday. She said that driving the course with "a brave and patient" instructor provided valuable lessons.

New Windsor Mayor Jack A. Gullo Jr. called his turn at the wheel of a police car that he raced to 80 mph an exhilarating experience -- "a chance to burn rubber with the police watching," he said.

"All of us drive a car routinely, but for officers doing their jobs, driving can be dangerous. This course is a great place to train, and ultimately the training will make roads safer for everybody."

The course replicates urban and rural streets and various road surfaces. It follows the existing contours of the land and "forces you to make decisions at a moment's notice," Raymond A.

Franklin, assistant director of the state Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services.

"We wanted a realistic facility," Franklin said. "It is better to have situations with hills and blind curves. A raceway would be artificial, but this is a real driving experience."

For Wallace P. Mitchell, chief of the Sykesville Police Department, the center "is the opportunity for the best training available, and close by."

Mitchell has also test-driven the course.

Work will begin soon on a firearms range, scheduled to open next summer. The final phase involves converting several vacant brick buildings, once part of Springfield Hospital Center, into academic, administrative, residential and dining areas.

When completed, the center will train as many as 500 law enforcement officers daily.

"With that many police, we will be the safest county in the state," said Union Bridge Mayor Perry L. Jones Jr.

Townsend came to the dedication with $2.5 million for local law enforcement agencies for battling illegal guns and $500,000 for the state police for ballistics technology.

"As you all know, I have seen the terrible effects of gun-related crime," said Townsend, referring to the assassinations of her father, Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy, and uncle, President John F. Kennedy. "I wouldn't want any family to go through that."

Pub Date: 9/23/98

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