Historic sites, new plans

Reuse: Annapolis' proposal to locate a horse park on the site of Crownsville Hospital Center or other old facilities meets with praise as well as concern.

August 28, 2005|By Jamie Stiehm | Jamie Stiehm,SUN STAFF

The silence in the green grounds and brick buildings at the shuttered Crownsville Hospital Center site, the reservoir at Annapolis-owned Waterworks Park and the nearby Naval Academy dairy farm is nearly unbroken, save for the Academy team mascot -a goat named Bill - who lives in rural splendor.

That empty silence, Annapolis Mayor Ellen O. Moyer hopes, will speak volumes to the Maryland Stadium Authority committee, which last week narrowed the field of contenders for the future Maryland State Horse Park site to two: the state capital and Cecil County.

Moyer is to make her second pitch to the site selection committee tomorrow at Camden Yards; the committee is up against a Sept. 15 timeline for a final selection.

The Annapolis proposal cobbles together about 2,000 acres of public land outside the city limits, while the Cecil County proposal rests on expanding Fair Hill, an existing equestrian site on 5,000 acres of state-owned land.

But Moyer's bid has hit a hitch: County Executive Janet S. Owens, a fellow Democrat, is concerned about the lack of infrastructure at the site of the former state mental hospital.

"Based on the infrastructure problems of the site, the county executive opposes that part of the proposal," said Matt Diehl, a spokesman for Owens. "She feels the Navy dairy farm might be a viable option."

Owens had previously expressed interest in acquiring the 544-acre portion of the hospital site that includes some buildings, but has said the state would probably have to handle asbestos cleanup and upgrading of the sewer system. She has backed preserving the second piece of the hospital site: an undeveloped 558-acre tract west of Interstate 97.

Key to the Annapolis proposal is adaptive reuse, especially for the Crownsville administrative buildings, which Moyer says could be converted into signature structures for the equestrian facility and its museum.

The facility, with iron grates and a disheveled laundry room still visible through dusty window panes, opened in 1910. The state closed the psychiatric hospital in June 2004 in a cost-saving move.

City officials are quick to point out that the state hospital buildings were designed by Baldwin & Pennington, a Baltimore architectural firm that designed the B&O Roundhouse, the Power Plant building and the Camden Yards warehouse-among a slew of institutional and civic buildings such as churches, hospitals and orphanages.

"Those are solid and handsome buildings," said Moyer, who is up for re-election this fall, of the shuttered hospital campus. "You don't want to lose those historic buildings. They are the face of Maryland."

Walter Schamu, past president of the Baltimore chapter of the American Institute of Architects, praised the architects: "They are one of the great premier firms at the turn of the [20th] century. ... They never did a bad building. Their work is dignified and I think this [horse park] would be a wonderful reuse."

The stakes are high, with the state seeking a Maryland counterpoint to the Kentucky horse park, on the premise that a first-class equestrian center will generate millions of dollars in economic impact. Preliminary plans call for an outdoor amphitheater, a 5,000-seat arena, a museum, and at least 500 acres to support steeple-chase, fox-chasing and recreational trail-riding.

Yet the hospital's history as a segregated facility for black mental patients is something that members of the African-American community do not want to disappear in building a horse park. Patients were sometimes expected to labor on the grounds and conditions were often crowded.

Nearly 2,000 African-American men, women and children are buried in the hospital cemetery, which was designated a historic site by state officials last year.

George Phelps Jr., who along with his niece spent years researching the identities of those buried there, said, "African-Americans should have some say in something about its future. They built their own cradles and coffins. They built the place and raised the food."

State officials have said the strength of the Annapolis proposal is its combining of existing public land and buildings, which are now mostly closed to public access.

The city-owned waterworks park, with more than 500 acres, has fallen into disuse, with occasional fly-fishers and riders with permits punctuating the quiet of the scenic reservoir. The waterworks property, which dates to the mid-19th century and takes its name from the city's earliest pump houses, once supplied Annapolis.

The Naval Academy's handsome red-and-white barns and rolling hills in Gambrills also were considered a selling point, officials said, since the 875-acre farm's original purpose - supplying milk and dairy products to the midshipmen - no longer holds.

The last tenant, Horizon Organic Dairy, opened a maze and an educational center focused on all-natural farming in 2001, but closed it to focus on educational and marketing efforts. Academy officials pointed out last year that a section of a 1998 federal law prevents the farm from being sold, and requires that tenants maintain its "rural and agricultural nature."

Two nearby properties - the Anne Arundel County Fairgrounds and Eisenhower Golf Course - also have land that could be used for the horse park, some say. But design decisions will be made by the Stadium Authority's architects, state officials said, who will do a complete walk-through of both sites on the short list.

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