Arts center possible for site

State must approve sale of the vacant Henryton complex

Officials balk at financing

November 08, 2001|By Childs Walker | Childs Walker,SUN STAFF

A Bethesda art foundation wants to transform the long-vacant Henryton complex in southern Carroll County into a community arts center complete with an art library, studio and gallery space for working artists and introductory classes for novices. The foundation first must wrangle a lease for the complex from the state, however.

The idea initially received a warm response from the county commissioners and members of the county delegation to Annapolis at a meeting yesterday.

The center would provide art exhibitions and classes to an area in need of both, said Ronald D. Morgan, director of the Mildred Morgan Memorial Foundation. Though the center would focus on fine arts, it probably would offer classes in drama, dance and music if demand existed, Morgan said.

The state-owned, 46.5-acre complex beside Patapsco State Park was once a segregated treatment center for black tuberculosis patients. It has been vacant almost 17 years. Few parties have shown interest in developing the 18 buildings maintained by the state at about $130,000 a year. This year, the county explored starting a drug-treatment center at the complex but quickly decided the renovation would be too costly.

Commissioner Julia Walsh Gouge reiterated yesterday that the county has no interest in purchasing the complex.

About five years ago, widespread community objection killed a private proposal to convert the buildings into a job training center for recovering substance abusers.

The state has allotted more than $4 million in its projected 2006 budget to raze the buildings and convert the property into parkland.

But because the buildings are registered historic sites, state officials have said they would rather see the complex put to use.

The foundation would fund its project in a complex and nontraditional manner. Instead of buying the buildings upfront, the foundation would lease them, using its renovation work as rent. The foundation would pay for the renovation work with a combination of its money, loans and grants. It also would solicit volunteer work from artists. Eventually, the foundation would buy the property outright using income from a variety of sources.

Morgan said yesterday that state officials have balked at his financing proposals because they don't rely on a lump capital payment for the property. He hopes formal support letters from the county and Carroll's delegation might influence the state to give him the lease.

The project would have a better shot, Morgan said, if Henryton fell within a designated growth area under the state's Smart Growth programs, which are intended to revitalize older suburban neighborhoods. Because it doesn't, the foundation will have difficulty obtaining tax breaks and other state funding. In another roadblock, the complex's water, sewer and electrical systems might need to be replaced. Morgan said he doesn't think that would be difficult but wouldn't be sure until the foundation inspects the complex.

A definitive answer from the state on his proposal could be a long way off, he said.

In other action at yesterday's meeting between the commissioners and the legislative delegation, legislators said they would pursue an extension of deadlines for the state's nutrient management program.

The program, part of the 1998 Water Quality Improvement Act, requires farmers to develop plans that control fertilizer runoff from their properties.

The act was passed after an outbreak of toxic Pfiesteria in 1997 in the Chesapeake Bay.

Farmers are supposed to have runoff plans by the end of this year and implement them next year, but many complain that the state doesn't have enough extension agents.

Farmers can use private consultants with the plans, but such help is costly and also in limited supply, delegation members said. The state has drastically cut funding to help mitigate those costs.

Farmers need an extra year, said Republican state Sen. Larry E. Haines, who thinks the program has created unnecessary stress for people who have long been dedicated to protecting their environment.

"I think if we can get a delay, then we can come up with some kind of program that's not so burdensome or costly," he said.

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