Pitch made by county on new facility

Police, fire officials tell residents about training center plan

`Dire need' seen for project

Neighbors worried about noise, traffic and light pollution

January 29, 2002|By Julie Bykowicz | Julie Bykowicz,SUN STAFF

Howard County's fire and police chiefs and public works director made their case for construction of the county's first Public Safety Training Facility with prospective neighbors, firefighters and police officers at a community meeting last night.

And people with homes near the Alpha Ridge Landfill near Marriottsville - proposed home of the facility - shared worries about the possible noise and light pollution and traffic snarls.

The project could cost as much as $10 million and take about five years to complete, said county Public Works Director James M. Irvin.

He said a Howard public safety contingent will travel to Annapolis tomorrow to "plead their case" for help from the General Assembly in financing the facility.

County Executive James N. Robey has said the county hopes to obtain $500,000 in matching state funds for planning and initial construction of the training center.

Howard Fire and Rescue Services Chief Joseph Herr and Police Chief Wayne Livesay, both in dress uniforms at the meeting, showed photographs of the modern and spacious training facilities of nearby counties to underline what Livesay called a "dire need" for one in Howard.

Livesay contrasted Baltimore County's police training sites with Howard's by saying, "We don't have anything like this at all. We have nothing."

His next slide was of a physical training area in Fairfax, Va.

"This is unlike anything in our county," he said. "As a matter of fact, we have nothing, period."

The two chiefs ended their speeches with pleas to allow the Alpha Ridge facility to proceed as planned.

Some of the most ambitious and costly plans include a two-story simulation training facility, a burn building and exterior training tower, a chemical building, a range/armory building and a driving track, which is also called a skid pad.

Funds have not been designated for those projects, which are at least a year and a half from beginning construction, according to a fact sheet.

Although most of the dozen or so community residents who attended the meeting agreed that Howard County needs a public safety training site, some questioned whether the plan was too grand.

"I don't see why they need to build a skid pad when there's one five miles up the road," Scott Muller, a Sand Hill Road resident for 15 years, said after the meeting. "Why duplicate facilities?"

Muller was referring to a driving track at the state law enforcement training center in Sykesville, which Livesay said is booked more than a year in advance.

Muller also wondered why access to the site couldn't be from Marriottsville Road instead of tiny Sand Hill Road. He said the county promised 20 years ago that the only access to Alpha Ridge would be from Marriottsville Road.

During the meeting, he asked Irvin whether the county would break that promise.

Irvin responded by saying that the county wanted to restrict access to the training site, which would be easier to do with a gated entrance on Sand Hill rather than Marriottsville.

Irvin outlined a possible construction schedule and map for the Alpha Ridge facility before answering residents' questions about the facility's impact on their neighborhood.

The county has funded only one phase of the project, which he said will be under construction from late spring to fall.

That phase will include: access to the site, relocation of the modular classrooms at the fire department's Cooksville training site, additional modular classrooms and sanitation facilities, a 7,500- square-foot equipment storage area and vehicle extrication area.

Design for the more expensive second phase of the project would begin late this summer and end by spring of next year. Construction could start in the summer of next year, if funding is available.

Part of the chiefs' PowerPoint presentation included a statement from Robey overlaid on the American flag. Although it is not the "ideal economic time" to bring this project forward, "current events have reinforced the fact that the time is not of our choosing," the statement read.

Some residents, such as retired Baltimore County Fire Department Capt. Phil Schubert of Pebble Beach Drive, said they support whatever facility the departments need.

Others, like Carol Zimmerman of Mount View Road, said they would like to see the facility shifted farther from housing.

"My main concern is noise," Zimmerman said. "I think it's a necessary facility, but I'd like it to be closer to Marriottsville Road."

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