State approves demolition of Henryton complex

The state Board of Public Works last week gave the state Department of Health and Mental Hygiene the green light to move forward with emergency demolition of 18 vacant buildings at the Henryton State Hospital Center in Marriottsville.

Located near the Howard County line, Henryton has been closed since 1985, and over the years the property has seen countless trespassing incidents, with numerous reports of vandalism and fires.

The state fire marshal had expressed concern that the vacant buildings pose a safety hazard — especially to firefighters. During the past decade, police and firefighters have been called to the 46-acre campus more than 70 times, most recently for a fire in March, during which crews from Sykesville as well as Baltimore and Howard counties responded.

After that fire, State Del. Susan Krebs, a Republican who represents Sykesville and Eldersburg, sent a letter to Gov. Martin O'Malley requesting that plans to address Henryton be stepped up.

"Fire officials say the facility is a potential death trap for firefighters and others because of collapsing floors, walls and ceilings in the 80-year-old buildings," Krebs wrote. "Teenagers frequently hang out and vandalize the complex because there is lack of security and tales that the complex is 'haunted.' "

O'Malley is one of three members of the Board of Public Works, with Comptroller Peter Franchot and Treasurer Nancy K. Kopp. At its May 1 meeting in Annapolis, the board approved the demolition of the buildings with no debate or dissent.

Last year, $3.5 million was set aside in the state budget, with $3 million added this year, to dismantle the buildings. State officials had considered using prison inmates to "deconstruct" some structures so their materials could be recycled.

But after the March fire, those plans were shelved to make way for a speedier demolition, and now officials say the structures will get knocked down and hauled away as quickly as possible.

Some of the buildings had been worth renovating, Krebs told The Sun last month. But now, she said, "I don't think even a brick can be saved anymore."

Over the years, there has been some interest in redeveloping Henryton for other uses, but most of those ideas due to lack of public water. Krebs has said in the past she hoped to see the property absorbed into Patapsco Valley State Park once the buildings were gone.

Henryton was built as a sanatorium for African-Americans diagnosed with tuberculosis. By the 1950s, nearly 500 adults and children plus staff were housed in the complex, according to information on file at the Maryland Historical Trust. It was converted in 1962 to a residential facility for the developmentally disabled, and closed nearly three decades ago.

Baltimore Sun Media Group reporters Timothy Wheeler and Jim Joyner contributed to this story.

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