AlliedSignal plan threatens maritime education center

Road would raise value of land, destroy school

June 22, 1999|By Tom Pelton | Tom Pelton,SUN STAFF

The former AlliedSignal chrome plant is no longer polluting the Inner Harbor. The question now is whether the company will turn a neighboring school into an endangered species.

Maryland's political leaders attended a ceremony yesterday at the former factory site near Fells Point to congratulate the New Jersey-based chemical and aerospace company for building a $100 million system to stop the runoff of cancer-causing chromium into the harbor.

But after the applause for the company's environmental sensitivity, conversation turned to whether AlliedSignal would build a bridge that might increase the site's value to developers but destroy a neighboring maritime educational center.

Company officials said they might offer another harbor-front property to the Living Classrooms Foundation to compensate the nonprofit organization for the damage it would suffer by having an extension of Central Avenue built across its docks.

The 14-year-old waterfront educational center sits on city-owned property next to the barren former factory site on South Caroline Street.

Mayor Kurt Schmoke declined yesterday to answer questions about whether the city would support construction of a bridge.

The foundation teaches more than 50,000 students a year about the state's environment and history by having them crew aboard vintage sailboats. It teaches job skills to inner-city children by helping them build boats and furniture.

The organization's scenic campus sometimes has five 19th-century-style Chesapeake Bay sailing ships moored at its piers. It features a 10,000-square-foot educational center and 75-foot tower that have won four architectural awards.

James Piper Bond, president of the foundation, praised AlliedSignal for cleaning up the 27-acre peninsula. But he said his group is not interested in a land swap that would allow a road to cut through their $10 million campus.

"We are adamantly opposed to any bridge that will destroy the integrity of our site," Bond said. "We have worked so hard to create something beautiful for the children of Maryland."

U.S. Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski, one of the speakers at yesterday's news conference, said it would be a mistake to hurt the educational institution for a possible advantage in encouraging development.

"When nobody cared about this site, the Living Classroom Foundation was an anchor tenant here, not only helping the community but also thousands of children a year," said Mikulski. "I think it would be inappropriate to minimize what the foundation has done to help the city."

AlliedSignal, which ran a chrome plant on the peninsula from 1957 to 1985, is marketing the property to developers to try to recover some of the money it spent cleaning up the site.

The company in 1993 won city approval for a mixture of apartments, shops and offices on the land.

Company officials won the praise yesterday of U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Assistant Administrator Tim Fields for dismantling the 140-year-old factory, covering the polluted site with four layers of plastic, and building a 3,200-foot-long underground wall to prevent pollutants from seeping into the harbor.

James A. Sladack, director of real estate for AlliedSignal, said he has talked to 10 developers about building on the site. Several have mentioned that one problem is that the peninsula has only one way in -- South Caroline Street.

Building a second entrance to the site on Central Avenue is "the logical solution to the problem," Sladack said. "We'd like to see development here that would create jobs and taxes for the city and we want to push this very aggressively."

The company could compensate the educational organization for the damage caused by a bridge by giving it another parcel of land nearby along the harbor, Sladack said.

City Public Works Director George G. Balog said that some of the access problems should be resolved next year when the city spends more than $4 million straightening South Caroline Street.

Balog said it's "an attractive concept" to provide the classroom foundation another parcel of land and build an extension of Central Avenue. But he added that the city would have to get the organization to agree to the concept.

"The Living Classrooms Foundation is so entrenched where they are," Balog said. "It's like a religion to them. They have changed people's lives, and I just don't see taking the land away from them."

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