Warfield honor lauded for maintaining treasures

Town officials say grant may inspire state offers

January 16, 2000|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,SUN STAFF

The century-old buildings of the Warfield Complex in Sykesville were lauded yesterday as national treasures, a designation that brings recognition and federal dollars to the Carroll County town.

As an officially designated Save America's Treasures project, Warfield has won $24,000 to help plan a major restoration of its 14 brick structures, once part of the adjoining Springfield Hospital Center.

Municipal leaders envision a business, academic and community center on the 138 acres along Route 32, which the town annexed last year. The grant will be used to establish zoning guidelines and covenants that "ensure the integrity and appreciation for history," said Mayor Jonathan S. Herman to an audience of about 75.

"We want to develop sensitively with care to the history of these buildings and to the people who live in this community," said Herman. "Recognition on a national level shows we are on the right path that will bring this wonderful property to re-use."

Warfield was one of 37 sites chosen as treasures and the only one in Maryland. The honor could inspire more grants from the state and county, town officials said.

Sykesville has proposed a partnership with the state in which each would share the profits from long-term leases in the restored buildings. The town has asked the state for nearly $2 million to start the renovation.

Ron Young, state deputy director of planning, said the project has a good chance of winning some state funding, but in increments. In the last days of the 1999 General Assembly, $200,000 in planning money for Warfield was slashed from the budget.

"The governor strongly supports the efforts of the town," Young said. "I have heard him tell the mayor many times that he is totally behind the Warfield project."

Sykesville has also asked the county for start-up money, but negotiations are stalled. Mary Ellen Bey, who attended the ceremony representing the Carroll County Historic Commission, said she was disappointed that Warfield is not a top priority for the county.

"The thinking seems to be driven by: It's easier to build new than save the old," Bey said. "What happens is that you give up your heritage and you can never recapture it when it's gone."

Young and Bey joined the crowd of state, county and town officials yesterday at the Hubner Building, the most spacious in the complex and the site of a museum detailing the history of Springfield Hospital Center, a state-run facility.

Warfield housed patient wards and recreational facilities, like the theater and grand ballroom that it often shared with the town.

Local tradesmen built Warfield's stately brick buildings, shortly after the hospital for the mentally ill opened in 1896. Nearly every longtime town family has a member who has worked at Springfield, which is still one of Carroll County's largest employers. The hospital has 400 patients.

When the hospital reduced its size 25 years ago, it had to abandon many of its older structures.

"We have come to know and love these buildings and grounds," said William Ebeling, the third generation of his family to work at the hospital. "I was saddened by buildings emptied and mothballed. This is a glorious day that reassures us the buildings will get well-deserved care."

The town has worked for more than five years to make Warfield a reality. The state Board of Public Works approved the town's design proposal in 1997, and Sykesville organized a weeklong community planning session to chart the property's future. Residents voted overwhelmingly to annex Warfield last year.

"This project symbolizes all that is good about America with government, business and citizens working together so that future generations will have these buildings," said Herman.

Recognition from a program that is a partnership between the White House Millennium Council and the National Trust for Historic Preservation is inspiring and well-deserved, said Councilman Michael H. Burgoyne.

"We have all known this was a treasure for many years," said Burgoyne. "We have a master plan, built on consensus, and we intend to follow it as the project progresses."

A few years ago, the county had considered a proposal to raze the buildings and replace them with an amphitheater. In the face of community outrage, the plan was scrapped.

Pressure to develop has remained strong. The designation "finally turns off the engines on the bulldozers," said Burgoyne.

Young said those bulldozers are still waiting in the shadows for an opportunity to tear down the old and create sprawl, said Young, who oversees the governor's Smart Growth initiative to direct development to existing communities. Sykesville is a viable town to which the governor can entrust the future of Warfield, Young said.

Warfield could become the model for restoration of large public health facilities, said Lisa Burcham, representing the National Trust.

"This really is not just about Sykesville, Maryland," she said. "This is about the nation. You are inspiring people everywhere to save the best of our past for our future."

She commended the state and town for their "foresight in protecting these buildings from an uncertain fate."

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