Missing the target

Carroll County: Safety concerns cause further delay in opening police center rifle range.

May 23, 2000

WITH ALL the public concern raised about other firing ranges in Carroll County, you'd think planners would have figured all the angles with the new police rifle range at the state training center in Sykesville.

Like the angle between the shooting gallery and state mental hospital buildings 700 yards away, or the police driving course a mere 50 yards off.

As it stands now, the rifle range won't open because authorities fear errant bullets could strike the driver training track or the Springfield Hospital buildings.

It's another disturbing twist in development of the 700-acre training center for police and corrections officers, planned for more than a decade and being built on former land of the state hospital.

Construction began four years ago, with plans for a $50 million complex of classrooms, dormitories, offices and training facilities to serve more than 25,000 state and local officers in Maryland.

But the governor abruptly halted work last year, claiming that the project violated his anti-sprawl program. Failing to find a more suitable location, he backed down and chose a nearby parcel of former hospital land to erect the classrooms and support buildings.

Perhaps this uncertainty pushed the Department of General Services to complete the rifle range without heeding the warnings of experts, including one from the U.S. Secret Service last fall that pointed up serious safety defects. Or was it the dispute over payments to the contractor for extra work?

The project now faces the likelihood of costly redesigns and reconstruction. Possible remedies include raising the earthen berm behind the range targets or completely enclosing the sides and overhead with metal plate baffles.

The pistol ranges opened this month, after nine months of delay. The rifle facility is still months from receiving safety approval. The public deserves to know just why the state overseers so clearly missed the target.

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