New life for a landmark

Facility: Once the hub of a state mental hospital, the Hubner Building will be revived as part of a police training center.

March 23, 2000|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,SUN STAFF

Abandoned more than a decade ago, the three-story Hubner Building, with wings that form a broad H covering nearly an acre, was once the hub of a state hospital in Sykesville for the mentally ill.

Remnants of its former life at Springfield Hospital Center remain -- in museum exhibits of straitjackets and other artifacts from the treatment of thousands of patients who spent their lives within its walls. A few offices are scattered throughout Hubner, shards from a deserted ceramics studio litter the basement, and cartons of records dating to 1896 cover the third floor.

The state has chosen the cavernous building for the academic arm of the Maryland Police Training Center, a $45 million project at the former Springfield center that will provide advanced training to as many as 500 officers daily.

The structure will be transformed into classrooms and laboratories.

"At first blush, this is a good match," said Raymond A. Franklin, assistant director of the state Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services. "The building will provide excellent administrative and classroom space. Hubner is in really good shape."

In its day, Hubner -- one of 14 buildings in the hospital's Warfield Complex -- housed about 300 patients, with staff, operating and treatment rooms, a nursing school and an administration that ran the state's largest hospital for the mentally ill.

The building dates to 1915 when state Sen. John Hubner, a Baltimore County legislator appalled at crowded mental hospitals, lobbied for more construction. His efforts led to the structure that bore his name from its opening, with more than 60,000 square feet of wards, dining halls and a few apartments for the staff.

"It was such a busy place, the hub of the hospital and its central admissions," said William Ebeling, Springfield's director of managed care. "Everything happened here in the center of the campus."

The Hubner Building is a museum now, filled with obsolete equipment. Head paddles for shock therapy, a straitjacket, a multihead shower and canvas-covered soaking tubs for immersion hydrotherapy can make visitors cringe. The building's copper-colored cupola, designed to allow gases to escape from the top-floor operating rooms, can be seen from almost anywhere on the campus.

Hubner's floor plan -- rooms on each side of long corridors -- lends itself to the state's plan for classrooms close to other training areas. Less than a mile away, students will hone their skills on a driver training course and test their mettle at a shooting range.

Until the end of next month, the state is conducting a site review and survey at Hubner and the adjoining "T building," a former tuberculosis ward and geriatric center.

Architects envision as many as 16 classrooms, several training labs and dormitories in the buildings. The only construction on the 23-acre site will be for a gymnasium, where officers will work on physical development and train in defensive tactics.

The state expects to put the project out to bid in about a year. Construction and renovations will take at least another year. Much of the project is funded. Since 1987, the $5 fines assessed in District Court cases -- mainly traffic tickets -- have been earmarked for the training center. Gov. Parris N. Glendening has pledged an additional $16 million to keep the work on track.

Hubner's renewal befits its size and stature, said Barbara Lilly, preservation projects coordinator in Sykesville.

Hubner was deemed state-of-the-art for its era. It took private patients and focused on long-term, asylum and medical care for the chronically ill. Wings emanating from an octagonal core allowed for the separation of male and female patients, and management from a central location.

"This is a wonderful building that presents challenges, but ones the state ought to be able to work with," Lilly said. "It has good natural ventilation and lighting. You don't feel boxed in and entombed."

The selection of Hubner has bolstered Sykesville's plans to transform other Warfield buildings into a business complex.

"This is the best jump-start we could ask for," Mayor Jonathan S. Herman said. "We will have an anchor tenant and an enormous amount of infrastructure."

Today, Springfield, which once sprawled across 1,200 acres, is down to fewer than 500 acres and 350 patients -- one-tenth the original number. The hospital had its own farm, post office, fire and police departments, even a railroad spur to town. The staff prepared many of its 10,000 daily meals with food that patients helped raise. Patients and staff printed a weekly newspaper, made clothing and shoes, and built furniture and caskets until the last burial in 1961.

Betty Jean Maus came to work in medical records on Hubner's third floor in 1955, when the hospital had about 3,600 patients.

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