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New Arundel police academy a priority for county executive

Anne Arundel County may get a new police academy to replace a facility that was built by the military as a Nike missile site more than a half-century ago.

The existing facility includes the dilapidated original military office building — which has been renovated and expanded over the years — as well as an underground missile silo that has been turned into an exercise center where the mats have to be rolled up before a storm so the many leaks don't send them floating.

Larry W. Tolliver, who was appointed police chief Aug. 1, said he led County Executive John R. Leopold on a tour this month of the 17-acre site in Davidsonville because he was disturbed by the condition of the outdated facility.

In an interview this week, Leopold said he agreed with Tolliver and decided a new police academy "should be a priority" in his budget proposal for the fiscal year that begins July 1.

"It is badly in need of replacement," Leopold said of the existing facility.

He said he'd like to see county police with "the best possible learning and working conditions."

Not only recruits train there. All officers spend time at the academy for continuing training.

The cost of a new training center won't be known until officials examine the site, decide whether existing structures, some of which may contain asbestos or other hazardous material, can be razed — one missile silo was filled years ago — and decide what they want there. However, a recent estimate put the cost of a new facility at the existing site at $10 million.

More repairs would be made to the existing firing range, which was built in 1997 and recently has been upgraded.

A new academy couldn't come too soon, the head of the county's largest police union said.

"Our members have been complaining about the deplorable conditions at the police academy for years. Until now, those complaints have fallen on deaf ears," said O'Brien Atkinson, president of the Fraternal Order of Police chapter.

He said that as they go through the training program, some cadets at the facility probably "look around and wonder if it's representative of county government as a whole."

The main building's original structure dates to about 1954; the later addition of a wing that looks like a big trailer brings it to about 9,500 square feet. Still, the new cadet class is being split in two because the classrooms are too small to shoehorn in more than about 37 recruits at once. Instructors move their desks when rain threatens, to avoid the deluges.

The water, which contains a large amount of sulfur, runs brown and has stained sinks and toilets; bottled water is brought in for drinking. In the bathrooms, boards cover places where tiles are missing.

Nobody recalls when the showers in the men's locker room last worked. The women's locker room has six showers.

"We can only use three at a time because there isn't enough water pressure," said Lt. Katie Goodwin, training commander, during a tour of the facility.

Even then, quick showers are imperative to keep water flowing for as many as 60 cadets some days (women shower before the men), followed by their instructors. Even though during the summer, physical training is best done in the morning when the air is cooler, it's done in the afternoon at the academy so that people can train just before they leave for the day and avoid the showers.

The firearms building is a old windowless bomb shelter whose 18-inch-thick walls are carpeted in an effort to retain heat. Instructors there said they wear coats inside all winter.

For ventilation in the weight room, a former garage, police rely heavily on fans — and opening the garage door.

The track is a quarter-mile loop painted on a parking area.

The missile silo, reborn as the physical training center, is accessible only through bomb-shelter-style doors in the parking lot and 23 steep steps into a dank room plagued by leaks.

"You can feel how heavy the air is here," Tolliver said.

Its old bunker still has the flip-down canvas cots once used by crews that manned the site. A broken elevator, in a room notable for mouse droppings, has been a source of ghost stories, Goodwin said.

One outbuilding has a tree growing out of its roof, and police said county facilities workers wouldn't rip it out because they feared yanking the roots would destroy the roof.

One change will come before new facilities arrive.

Tolliver said starting with the next academy class, the county will begin charging police agencies outside the county for the recruits they enroll in Anne Arundel's academy. Currently, other jurisdictions pay for uniforms and ammunition, but not the estimated $35,000 to $40,000 for the approximately six months in the police training program.

"We can't keep footing the bill," he said.


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