State looking at changes in police center Budget might force cutback of plans for police training facility

'A big battle to keep it'

Governor's spokesman says project is among several to be examined

December 16, 1998|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,SUN STAFF

The state is considering scaling back plans to build a $53

million police training center, the first of its kind in Maryland, at Springfield Hospital Center in Sykesville, officials confirmed yesterday.

Budget deliberations will determine what happens to the Public Safety Training Center, where a $10 million driver training course opened in September, said Ray Feldmann, a spokesman for Gov. Parris N. Glendening.

As part of those deliberations, "we are looking at all the projects ,, the state is going to build to make sure they are consistent with Smart Growth," Feldmann said. "Some say this project is not. There has been no decision yet."

Smart Growth is Glendening's 1997 plan that tries to discourage sprawl by providing state aid for development in and around existing communities.

State and local leaders are fighting to keep the project on track. The driver training course was the first phase. A $5 million firing range is under construction, set for completion in August. The final phase involves renovation of vacant hospital buildings into classrooms, offices and dormitories that could serve as many as 700 officers a day.

"This has been a long-term project of mine as delegate and treasurer, and it was strongly supported by the late comptroller [Louis L. Goldstein]," said State Treasurer Richard N. Dixon. "It .. will be a big battle to keep it."

As a former Carroll County delegate, Dixon worked to bring the center to the hospital along Route 32.

State Sen. Larry E. Haines, the Republican chairman of Carroll's legislative delegation, also will push to keep the facility on track. Haines wrote a letter to the governor Dec. 3, urging him to move the state police crime laboratory to the Springfield site, as was once expected.

Haines, who has not received a reply, said he would issue a statement today criticizing the decision last spring to keep the lab in Baltimore County at a cost of $2.5 million, the price tag for 6 acres on Slade Avenue in Pikesville, Haines said in his letter.

"What concerned me most about this whole matter is the fact there is not sufficient room for expansion at the existing location in Pikesville, and a new site would need to be acquired," he wrote.

Sykesville offers a more appropriate and less costly location, Haines said. "I am going to try to rally public support for bringing the crime lab to Carroll County," he said. "It is wrong to buy land in Baltimore County, when we have the space here."

The 13-year-old lab has outgrown its 24,000-square-foot space at Sudbrook Lane and Reisterstown Road. The lab is facing huge increases in demand for DNA testing, ballistics and other work.

"Lobbyists for Baltimore County worked against Carroll County and kept the crime lab," said Sykesville Mayor Jonathan S. Herman. "They argued that it was not smart growth to move it here."

Herman argues that since Sykesville is an established town, proceeding as planned with the center would be "smart growth."

Herman and Haines are urging the state to move forward with plans to renovate 14 century-old hospital buildings into classrooms, administrative offices and dormitories for the center.

Haines and Herman have also asked the governor to clarify plans for the future of the vacant buildings at the hospital.

If the complex "is not developed, it opens up a host of unpleasant possibilities in proximity to the town," said Herman.

As originally planned, nearly 25,000 officers in police and correctional agencies throughout the state would be able to train at the center. Police agencies have relied on 16 police academies throughout Maryland to train cadets. Except for Montgomery County, none has a bona fide driver-training facility.

Baltimore County is not lobbying actively or behind the scenes to stop or alter plans for a police training center in Sykesville, said Michael H. Davis, a spokesman for Baltimore County Executive C. A. Dutch Ruppersberger.

But rumors about cutting the project back have swirled for weeks, Haines said.

"This is where the training center belongs," said Haines. "The state police and the secretary of corrections have supported this location. Everybody seemed to be in agreement. We would use state-owned property and restore existing buildings. This should not be a political decision. It should be what is in the best interests of the state of Maryland."

Raymond A. Franklin, assistant director of the state Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services, said he is moving forward with the restoration of four buildings.

"We are doing hazardous materials abatement in some buildings now and have done test borings to determine locations for climate control systems," he said. "We are 50 percent of the way through the design phase, which we expect to complete by mid-June."

Franklin expects to be occupying several buildings by December 2000. "There are always rumors, but this looks like a commitment to me," he said. "We are proceeding. No one has informed us of a change."

At the dedication of the driver training course in September, Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend pledged $16 million to accelerate the project. Franklin said those funds have been committed, and he is developing construction plans accordingly.

Pub Date: 12/16/98

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