County at loss for Henryton solutions

Commissioners willing to develop portion of property if state helps

May 26, 1999|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,SUN STAFF

Five days after touring an abandoned state hospital in Marriottsville, the county commissioners have few ideas about what to do with the property.

In discussions with staff yesterday, the commissioners said they would favor developing a portion of the Henryton Center property in cooperation with the state, but they were averse to taking on the entire task.

"Henryton is a really attractive campus area," said Commissioner Donald I. Dell. "Somebody is going to find a use for it."

But, he added, "This is not something we can take over ourselves."

The 50-acre Henryton site straddles the Carroll-Howard counties border and overlooks the Patapsco River.

"The state has really written off this property, and they are not going to use it," said Steven Horn, county director of planning. "Howard County wants the buildings demolished and the land to become part of the state park system."

Carroll officials are not ready to call out the bulldozers for the 18 decrepit buildings. They have bandied about several options, including senior housing, a boot camp for the Sheriff's Department, a school campus and a homeless shelter. But funding any such endeavor would require assistance from the state and the private sector, Dell said.

The state declared Henryton surplus several years ago. Once the state hospital for African-American tubercular patients, it has been vacant for more than 15 years. The remote location and the deteriorating buildings have limited marketing efforts. The main hospital building, a rambling white stucco edifice at the center of the campus, is a particular eyesore.

"The big problem is the old hospital building," said Horn. "The architectural style is wanting."

"There is no architectural style," said Dell, who favors demolishing that building. "It is an old, ugly building that gets in the view of the valley for the other buildings."

Asbestos removal is also a costly consideration, estimated at about $2 million, for anyone interested in restoring the hospital.

"The county is not interested in anything that would create a burden for us," said Horn.

Minimal maintenance and security costs the state about $100,000 annually. Heat, water and electricity supplies were cut off years ago, and the effects of neglect are evident throughout the buildings.

"It is just too big for us, but if the state wants our input, we should give it," said Commissioner Robin Bartlett Frazier. "We should check into other reuses of abandoned hospitals."

The state is continuing to market the site, showing the property to private interests, "but does not want to do anything without the county's knowledge," said Horn. Most potential uses would require a change in the conservation zoning of the property, an action that falls within the county's purview.

In September 1997, the state entered into a lease agreement with a nonprofit organization that planned to renovate Henryton into a rehabilitation and jobs training center. Neighbors in Carroll and Howard counties vigorously opposed the plan. Carroll officials threatened to block any attempt to rezone the land. The lease was canceled in July.

Neither the state nor the county wants to see the conservation land developed into another residential subdivision.

But few other possibilities have emerged.

Commissioner Julia Walsh Gouge, who was unable to make the tour last week, said she wanted a decision soon on whether the county could do anything with the hospital.

Pub Date: 5/26/99

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