Ex-auto dealership up for county lease

Ellicott City building would become shared vehicle maintenance facility


Howard County is moving to solve several headaches by leasing a former auto dealership on Ridge Road near U.S. 40 in Ellicott City for a new vehicle maintenance facility shared with the county school system.

If the County Council approves the lease Monday night as expected, the 30-year deal would save $11 million intended for a planned new facility off Route 100 at Old Montgomery Road - where Brightfield Farms residents don't want it - fearing noise, lights and traffic.

"Obviously, we're very happy," said Cory Musselman, president of the Brightfield Farms Homeowners Association. "We're very happy that Public Works took an honest second look."

Musselman credited County Councilman Guy Guzzone, a North Laurel-Savage Democrat, for helping residents.

The council approved a capital budget last spring that included $1.8 million for planning the proposed facility at Brightfield, but Musselman and resident Barry Jedrick said that Guzzone pushed for other options and kept residents informed.

The Ellicott City location is "a little more commercial with significantly better access roads," Musselman said.

The 6-acre former Pontiac dealership will provide a place to centralize work on police cars and other light vehicles, as well as firetrucks, while giving the school system a place to store groundskeeping equipment.

"It's in a perfect location," said James M. Irvin, director of the county Department of Public Works, after testifying about the deal at a council meeting last month. "It'll work. The nice thing is, it's already there."

The former dealership site is close to county government offices and contains a 40,500- square-foot showroom and maintenance building constructed in 1973, as well as a newer 2,800- square-foot structure added in 1992, according to Mike Giovanniello, county Bureau of Facilities chief.

The county lease would require a $31,700-a-month payment through fiscal 2007, when the rent would increase to $37,000 a month through 2012, Irvin said. The initial lease is for 10 years, but includes four additional five-year lease options.

Irvin said the county might over time want to build several additions to the buildings.

County Council members seemed pleased.

"It seems like a good partnership," said Council Chairman Christopher J. Merdon, an Ellicott City Republican who represents the area.

School Superintendent Sydney L. Cousin said the arrangement will enable the schools to reclaim needed instructional space at the Applications and Research Laboratory building, which is next to school board headquarters.

But the deal does not solve every problem for the school system, which still wants to build a maintenance facility.

Repair shops for electricity, plumbing, carpentry and other services are in the former Harriet Tubman High School, which was built in 1948 for the county's then-segregated African-American students.

The school board requested $1.1 million in the 2007 fiscal budget to plan a facility, but the Planning Board has recommended against it.

"It's an obsolete, antiquated and less-than-efficient use of resources," Cousin said of the shops at Tubman.

African-American community members have been calling for creation of a museum in the building after school maintenance shops find other locations.


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