New ideas for what could be housed in the former North Carroll High School building have been tossed around in recent months — most recently, this week.
Commissioner Richard Weaver, R-District 2, sent a letter to Gov. Larry Hogan and the Maryland House of Delegates dated Aug. 30 proposing the space be used for a Next Generation 9-1-1 State Training Center. His idea comes after Commissioner Doug Howard, R-District 5, held a meeting on July 30 to discuss the possibility a charter school could move into the space.
“We know this is coming, the NextGen 9-1-1 centers,” said Weaver in a phone interview Friday. “My hope is we can do a state training center right here in Hampstead.”
NextGen 9-1-1 is a digital or Internet Protocol [IP]-based 911 system, an upgrade from the original analog 911 technology. Public safety answering points [PSAPs] across the country are being upgraded to improve the reliability and efficacy of the 911 system, and this could be a precursor to Carroll County upgrading its own.
NextGen 9-1-1 “will enhance emergency number services to create a faster, more resilient system that allows voice, photos, videos and text messages to flow seamlessly from the public to the 911 network,” the 911 government website states. “NG911 will also improve PSAP ability to help manage call overload, natural disasters, and transferring of 911 calls and proper jurisdictional responses based on location tracking.”
Weaver says the space at North Carroll would also continue to be used for education if it became a training center — and be a safe place to do that training.
“We have all kinds of programs we could run from there,” he said. “We have the Sheriff’s Training Academy right there. Plus, North Carroll is designed as a fallout shelter, so we could actually put some real secure system into there. In case of emergency — you never know what it would be today — we would have a really secure site. So we put it out there. We are trying to gain some traction with it.”
Carroll County Sheriff Jim DeWees said he supports the idea to put a NextGen 9-1-1 training center above where his deputies do their training.
“It has been a wonderful, wonderful facility for my police academy to run,” DeWees said Friday, “and I'm fully behind a proposal to bring a NextGen 9-1-1 training location — but for dispatchers in general. I don't believe there’s anything like it in the state.”
He said it would be a perfect pairing to set up a lab-type situation where police academies from all over the state could practice.
“They have to start responding to calls and scenario-based calls,” DeWees said, “and to maybe have a scenario where they’re running calls of dispatchers for training, and marry my people up with those dispatchers — it would be priceless for us.”
In Weaver’s letter, the Board of County Commissioners asks Hogan to consider the opportunity to work in a partnership with the county to use the existing infrastructure at the former school to “provide a one-stop shop for the technologically advanced training to all public safety professionals.”
The letter also states using an existing building would cost less than building a new one to house the state training center and that the facility is only 8.5 miles from the Maryland Emergency Management Agency in Reisterstown and 1 mile from a main street with dining and other service options for trainees.
Other benefits, Weaver said, include that there is community support for the project.
Hampstead Mayor Chris Nevin heard about the project Thursday and indicated his support.
“My thoughts in general are that it’s a positive move,” Nevin said. “It would be a positive use that would bring business and people to town. I view that favorably, and I think the council would as well, but I haven't had the chance to talk to them about it yet.
“We appreciate the Sheriff’s Office using [the former school] as a training facility and maintaining use of the facility,” he said. “And it is still staying open for the North Carroll Rec Council, which is very much needed. Commissioner Weaver’s idea is a positive as well, and we are open and willing to listen.”
Weaver said he is going to wait until residents get adjusted to new schedules as school starts up again this week to set up a town meeting to discuss the NextGen 9-1-1 training center idea. He said he hopes that would occur sometime at the end of September.
If anything happens with the idea, he said, it likely wouldn’t be for at least 18 months to two years, so there is no reason to rush when families are preparing for classes to start — but he wants to keep people in the know.
“I grew up here,” said Weaver, who represents Hampstead. “I know all these people. I don't want to blindside them. I want them to know what’s going on every inch of the way so nobody’s caught off guard and lied to — and they’ll stop by the house and talk to me about it.
“This is a school issue, a community issue,” he said. “What do we do with these things? We have a beautiful building that’s in good shape, that we need to find a good economical use for, that will help get money to offset the cost of it, and get us some return here until one of these days [when it’s needed as a school again].”
And Weaver said with development coming into the town and more young people buying up old homes, the school will be needed again in the future.
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“In another 15 years, you're going to see a total change in demographics that's going to spur the need of the different facilities,” said Weaver. “The 50 acres at North Carroll will be needed again. I can’t say when, I don't have a crystal ball, but we will be growing.”