Governor's decision boost to Sykesville

Police training center seen as anchor for critical development

January 26, 2000|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,SUN STAFF

It took the persistence of a small town in Carroll County -- and the support of two powerful state officials -- to get a $50 million Maryland Public Safety Training Center back on track.

The long-planned project, partially completed on former state hospital property in Sykesville, was derailed last year when Gov. Parris N. Glendening called the location inconsistent with his Smart Growth, anti-sprawl initiative.

But fellow members of the state Board of Public Works -- Comptroller William Donald Schaefer and Treasurer Richard N. Dixon, a Carroll County native -- favored keeping the project in Carroll County.

Sykesville Mayor Jonathan S. Herman argued that a site in the town of 3,500 would be Smart Growth, and he had one in mind, not far from the original one: two spacious buildings in the Warfield Complex, a 138-acre property along Route 32 that the town plans to develop as a business center.

Then, in a private meeting two weeks ago, Sykesville Police Chief Wallace P. Mitchell, who is also president of the Maryland Chiefs of Police, urged the governor to finish the police training project. The state already has built a driver-training course and a shooting range near the hospital.

"This project is important to Maryland law enforcement," said Mitchell. "We were all concerned with the delay."

The governor's decision Monday to locate the academic buildings of the police center at the Warfield Complex in Sykesville gives the town an anchor for its prime economic development project and much needed infrastructure and road improvements.

"This helps us get off the ground and helps the state get its training center under way," said the mayor. He said state engineers are on the site and "ready to move dirt."

Carroll's all-Republican State House delegation had strongly opposed moving the center from the county and greeted the decision to stay with enthusiasm.

"A lot of groundwork had been done," said Del. Joseph M. Getty, of Manchester, noting that the shooting range and driver-training course already in operation nearby put Carroll County "head and shoulders above any other site in the state."

The governor also should re-evaluate his decision on the state police crime lab, proposed for a site in Baltimore County, Getty said. "It would be better to have everything in the same location."

The governor's reversal was inevitable, said state Sen. Larry Haines, of Westminster, delegation chairman.

"He reversed based on the fact that there should not be a separate facility when 50 percent was already completed in Sykesville," said Haines. "Coupled with opposition from the legislature and the Board of Public Works, the governor had an uphill battle for another site and no compelling reason to relocate."

The state has declared as surplus much property at Springfield Hospital Center, a facility for the mentally ill that is one of the county's major employers, with about 800 workers. The Warfield property formerly was part of the Springfield complex, but was annexed by the town about a year ago.

Haines said the county should follow the town's lead and try to take title to other surplus land around the hospital and encourage economic development there.

"Carroll needs that land," said Haines. "It is there and the timing is right."

County Commissioner Julia Walsh Gouge, a Republican, said keeping the center in Carroll "is a positive move in all directions. This is the jump start everybody needs. I hope it puts new life into the project."

Most of the training center's classrooms and dormitories will go into the Hubner Building, which once contained hospital wards and treatment rooms. The brick building has about 68,000 square feet, laid out in an H shape, with long corridors overlooking courtyards. A glassed-in atrium could connect the sides of the building and become the central hall of the school, said the mayor.

"That building just goes on and on," said Del. Nancy Stocksdale of Westminster, who recently attended a town event at the Hubner Building. "I remember thinking it would make a perfect school."

As many as 500 officers a day are expected to train in the classrooms. The driver-training course and shooting range are used by police departments across the state and other public safety agencies.

Hubner, at the northern end of the Warfield property, is separated from the main complex by several acres of wetlands. When the town planned Warfield's future, Hubner was the last scheduled for renovations.

"Hubner was a problem for us because of its size and design," said the mayor. "The separate location divided by wetlands meant it could not be our focal point. We were much more concerned with Main Street."

With an anchor, the whole Warfield project has received a much-needed boost, said Herman. He is confident that the center will attract other tenants to the buildings.

"There will be jobs, a hotel and a major economic boom for the town and Carroll County," he said.

The state will make the costly improvements to infrastructure and Route 32, both of which were vital to spur economic development at Warfield.

"Everyone in Maryland law enforcement is glad to see this center is on the road again. We will make it a model for the nation," Mitchell said.

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