Carroll training site gains support

GOP lawmakers back Dixon effort to block police center's move

January 31, 1999|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,SUN STAFF

Republican state lawmakers are backing Maryland Treasurer Richard N. Dixon's effort to thwart the governor's plan to move a proposed $53 million police training center from Sykesville, local officials say.

The Maryland House Republican Caucus issued a statement last week urging the governor to reconsider his decision, which, the members wrote, "defies logic and will cause considerable disruption and delays."

"It will also increase financial and environmental costs," the statement said. "Changing the planning and design of the academic and residential structures at this time will cause a loss of time, effort and expenses that have already been expended at the Springfield site."

Sen. Larry E. Haines, leader of the all-Republican Carroll delegation, said he has the support of the state Senate.

"We have strong support from the legislature to keep this project in Sykesville," Haines said. "There is strong support among police officials and from Dixon and [state Comptroller William Donald] Schaefer."

The project, which Glendening once praised as "a wonderful asset," has been rejected because the location did not meet his Smart Growth initiative. The 1997 legislation controls sprawl by directing development to existing communities.

"That is hogwash," said Dixon, a former Carroll County delegate. "Sykesville is a Smart Growth area."

Plans called for construction on the 720 acres and renovation of 14 aging buildings once part of Springfield Hospital Center on Route 32 in southern Carroll County.

Schaefer, who was sworn in as comptroller Monday, said, "I favored the Sykesville location, when I was governor. It was the right place to put it."

Schaefer plans to tour the Sykesville site to see how far the project has progressed. He will see a $10 million driver training course, which opened in September, and a $5 million shooting range, which opens in August. Nearly 50 percent of the design work is complete for converting hospital wards formerly known as the Martin Gross Complex into classrooms, offices, dormitories, and a mock jail for training.

The state has spent about $20 million, nearly 40 percent of the expected cost. The project's funding came from the $5 fees assessed on every District Court case in the state for the past 10 years.

Facility is `much needed'

"I will oppose any other sites and any other costs for acquisition, planning, surveys or anything," said Dixon, who serves on the state Board of Public Works with Glendening and Schaefer. The panel votes on land acquisition and expenditures related to construction projects.

"I have fought hard to get this on track and to keep it on track," said Dixon, who was re-elected treasurer by a 95 percent majority of the General Assembly on Jan. 22. "It is much needed in my former district."

In September, at the opening of the driving course, Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend pledged $16 million to keep construction on schedule for 2002.

"We own land and usable buildings at Sykesville, and there is water and sewer," said Dixon. "We have already started to work on the buildings and spent $15 million on the grounds. It is too late in the development to push this project back."

The governor's budget includes $4.2 million for the center, which was scheduled for completion in 2002 in Sykesville. Glendening has asked his staff to find another location for the academic portion of the training.

"Why two different training locations?" Dixon said. "That is what we were trying to avoid all along."

When asked if he thought the governor would change his mind, Dixon said, "He changed his mind on supporting [President] Clinton, didn't he?"

Planning began for the center in 1989. A study showed Sykesville would be within 50 miles of the majority of officers who would train there. The center would be a few miles from Interstate 70.

In the fall of 1996, Glendening, Dixon and the late comptroller, Louis L. Goldstein, dedicated the center.

"We are preserving a wonderful asset," Glendening said at the dedication. "The center will be a really strong presence in Carroll County, providing jobs and safety activities."

The center would train as many as 500 officers a day and employ about 100 people. The governor said at that time that the renovation matched his Smart Growth initiative.

`Safety through teamwork'

"We want to reuse existing communities to make them more viable," Glendening said in October 1996. "But none of this will work if our communities are not safe. We can achieve safety through teamwork, and here we have a pivotal part of the team."

Haines remains confident that "broad-based bipartisan support" can alter the governor's rejection of the project.

"I don't think the governor has anybody on his side," Haines said. "He will reconsider because the site is in the best interests of everyone in the state."

Pub Date: 1/31/99

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