Schaefer, Dixon vow to oppose Governor on police training site

Public Works panelists still split over placement of project in Sykesville

April 18, 1999|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,SUN STAFF

The battle to keep the entire $53 million Law Enforcement Training Center in Sykesville will continue at the state Board of Public Works, with Maryland's comptroller and treasurer vowing to oppose the governor.

Gov. Parris N. Glendening had repeatedly praised state-owned property in Sykesville as the ideal location for the center, but he scrapped the final phase of the project in January. A driver-training course has opened, and a shooting range is to open in August.

The governor said the project did not meet Smart Growth objectives to control sprawl and direct development to existing communities. He gave his staff 90 days to find another site for the academic phase of the project.

No other location for the classrooms, offices and dormitories has been identified. When one is chosen, it will need the approval of the three-member board to move forward.

"My support for Sykesville is as strong as ever," said Comptroller William Donald Schaefer. "I will try to block any effort to move the center. Sykesville is the right place."

Treasurer Richard N. Dixon agreed, saying, "I will not vote for money for any other location. The center should be completely built in Sykesville."

The board could be deadlocked for the remainder of the governor's term, Dixon said. Any vote will be 2-to-1 against a new location, Dixon and Schaefer said last week in telephone interviews with The Sun.

"I am not changing my mind and Schaefer is not changing his," Dixon said. "The governor cannot run again, but both of us can. I have waited 10 years to see this center built. I am not going to see it divided in two and built in a flawed manner."

Schaefer, who authorized the Sykesville location -- on 70 acres near Route 32 -- in 1989 when he was governor, said Glendening "wants the center any place but where it should be."

Most see the change in plans as political retribution for Carroll County, which has never supported Glendening. Its legislative delegation voted against Smart Growth in 1997.

"The governor is just mad at the people there [in Carroll County] for not voting for him," Schaefer said. "When I ran for governor, the Eastern Shore and Western Maryland never supported me. But I did more for those areas than any other governor.

"You are governor to all the people, not just the ones who voted for you. His idea that it is `my way or you pay' is not right."

Splitting the center in two would be counterproductive and costly, Dixon said. In Sykesville, 800 acres is available, along with aging but usable hospital buildings.

"Dividing the center into two places is the very thing we never wanted to do," said Schaefer, who toured the Springfield site again two months ago. "Those are strong buildings, and they are in good shape."

The academic section was to be housed in restored buildings on the grounds of Springfield Hospital Center. The state has spent about $10 million on design and engineering. A $10 million driver training course opened in September, and a $5 million shooting range will be ready this summer.

"The state has already put a lot of money into the ground in Sykesville," said Dixon, a former Carroll legislator who has worked for the Sykesville site. "We need one central location. It would be costlier to build and operate in two different locations."

The General Assembly also opposed the governor's decision but ultimately removed language from the budget that said any funds it allocated must be spent in Sykesville. Officials said they feared the center would not be completed if the language remained.

"The budget language would have helped us, but it was always a side excursion to the main showdown at the Board of Public Works," said Del. Joseph M. Getty, a Manchester Republican. "The Board of Public Works must approve any funds for design and engineering or for land acquisition. Since Schaefer and Dixon agree with the Sykesville site, Glendening may have to compromise.

"The showdown will come this summer, when Glendening tries to spend money for a new site," said Getty.

Del. Carmen Amedori, a Westminster Republican and freshman legislator, characterized the governor's decision as "controlled growth, not smart growth."

"The governor has gone to great extremes to get the center moved, but the General Assembly is on the side of the Carroll delegation," Amedori said.

Law enforcement agencies also favor Sykesville, Getty said.

"The Sheriff's Association visited Spring Grove as a possible alternative," said Getty. "They didn't like it."

Schaefer said Glendening's political ploy could delay the completion of the center.

"He won't be able to build it anywhere else for years," said Schaefer. "He will have to start all over again with planning and environmental issues. The whole thing will be delayed while he monkeys around."

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